SASKATOON – Before television, heated cars and Wintershines, winters in the Prairies weren’t easy. In the early days, Saskatoon was isolated and there was little to do.
“If you were here in the winter time you were stuck here,” said Saskatoon’s archivist, Jeff O’Brien.
Quite literally, a snow storm was the last thing you wanted in the Prairies in the early days. Being in the middle of one could mean you were snowed in for weeks.
“We had very few roads and landmarks those days so if you were out on the Prairie and you got caught in the blizzard, you could get lost very easily,” he said.
O’Brien says he recalls a famous story about a young Saskatoon man named Ted Meers who was crossing Broadway in a blizzard in 1888 and got lost. A few days later, he was found miles away frozen to death.
Still, he adds people made the best of harsh temperatures and long winter seasons. Skating and skiing were just as popular as they are today. People also built formal toboggan slides, ones O’Brien describes to have wooden ramps off the end and bumpers.
“The idea is that you pay money and a bunch of you would hop on a big long slide and go whipping down this thing. Nothing says winter like screaming down an icy slope in a vehicle without brakes or directional control,” he said.
The 1971 Canada Winter Games gave winter a whole new meaning. The games were proudly hosted by Saskatoon and featured a ski hill residents came together to build.
The city put together a bid to host the event, built a speed skating rink and eventually worked to come up with the Blackstrap ski hill. No longer a functioning ski hill, O’Brien said at the time, it was the city’s pride and joy.
“This is Saskatchewan this is Saskatoon. We take what we’ve got and we make the best of it. and 1971 winter games were a resounding success. In a large part, because everybody in Saskatoon got together and said we’re going to build a large mountain, we’re going to make these games and we had a great time doing it.”
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