Deep Freeze

Winter has hit Calgary in full force. I generally don’t mind the cold but when it gets to temperatures that freeze your eyes shut and restrict your breathing I have problems. There’s nothing worse than being outside and feeling like you are having an asthma attack because the air is cold enough to freeze your bronchioles. Tonight we’re sitting at -42 C/F (because both are the same).

I’m currently reading a local history book: The English Colony, Nightingale and District, which is about some of the first settlers to arrive in Alberta — particularly the Nightingale area by Strathmore. On days like today I think about the harsh conditions they had to survive. They came in waves — mostly from Europe — as part of CPR’s and the government’s plan to colonize the west.

Sir Wilfred Laurier was Prime Minister of Canada from the year 1896 to 1911, and it was under his leadership that the government of Canada, supported by the Canadian Pacific Railway, started a widespread and vigorous colonization campaign to develop the Western Prairie Provinces of Canada.

Realizing that the real need of the West was more settlers, Canadian Immigration Offices were established in the British Isles, the United States and various other European countries. Laurier promoted the coming of new settlers by every means possible; travel costs were cut to a minimum and packages of attractive, if somewhat misleading, propaganda literature arrived in all countries overseas enticing people to emigrate and develop the quarter of a million square miles of virgin land that comprised the Prairie Provinces.

The land was divided into 80-acre and 160-acre farms of irrigable land to be sold at $35.00 per acre, $100.00 to be paid in advance and the balance in ten years… (The English Colony, Nightingale and District, Pp. 89-90)

Most had no idea of what they were in for, which is evident with the Barr expedition. This particular excerpt is about a distant relative through marriage:

On March 3rd, 1903, he [Edward James] had joined the Barr party expedition; it as under the leadership of two men, one was Reverend Barr, a clergyman from London, England, and the other was Reverend George Lloyd, a missionary, also from England. These men wanted to encourage immigration to Canada to assist the British people left depressed by the Boer War and the generally poor conditions.

These two men advertised in the London Times that a block of land had been acquired in Western Canada… Approximately 2,000 souls answered the call from the London Times. My dad [Edward James] was one of them. This expedition left Liverpool on March 3rd, 1903, on the S.S. Manitoba. It was a completely mad expedition, sponsored by two men who knew literally nothing of the conditions of the Western Prairies and of the hardships and privations they were to endure, and without the monetary means to carry the expedition to fruition. Many of these people took sick and many died as a result of the poor conditions.

The group soon lost faith in Reverend Barr, who was quite unqualified for the leadership of such an expedition, and Reverend George Lloyd took over. Eventually, they arrived in the vicinity of the promised land of milk and honey, a small Anglican Church and a few sod huts were soon erected, but by this time winter was upon them. The sod huts and tents were completely inadequate and the intense cold and loneliness were almost more than this hardy, courageous group of pioneers could bear. They named this little settlement Lloydminster – Lloyd after their leader and Minster for the Mother Church. (The English Colony, Nightingale and District, Pp. 89-90)

I couldn’t imagine living in sod huts or tents in the middle of the bald prairie during winter. The city is not much better at protecting you from the wind — particularly the core where the wind just whips between the buildings like a giant knife. I often wonder why we’ve lived here so long — in a place where we own (and use) clothing that is good to -65C… a place where it gets so cold that the smoke from building can’t rise up (look at the photo below). I wonder why we don’t just move to B.C. where the dogs can run on the beach in the rain instead of laying on their back in the snow like a dead bug when their paws freeze.

We must be crazy.

8 comments on “Deep FreezeAdd yours →

  1. I try to console myself with the fact that it is only cold here one to two weeks every January/February. But that fact is not ever very comforting when we are in the midst of -29 C weather. 😉

  2. Yea, this recent cold snap has been particularly hard on me (actually Dec -> today has been hard). I think I may actually be suffering from SAD. All I can think about is living somewhere where the plants don’t all die during winter.

  3. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had SAD. A lot of people do. I know that my circadian rhythm is definitely out of whack. I keep meaning to buy a good light therapy device, like the one my friend in Toronto uses – a light box from

    You should take the questionnaire on the site and see what it says – interestingly enough, my husband and I are completely opposite with circadian rhythm disorders, so the questionnaire results came back exactly how I expected they would. (me: extreme “night owl” – always have been, hate mornings, like evenings and late nights a lot. My husband: morning person, but is exhausted and tired before 24 hours has passed, so he’s tired and sleepy even by the early evening, plus isn’t really able to sleep in past 8 or 9am.)

    Last January and February when we were on one of our many trips to Seattle, I particularly enjoyed being on the coast in the dead of winter. There were still green things growing, and even some hardy flowers had blooms! Made me feel almost sick when we got back to Calgary. Similar to how I felt traveling to Seattle in October and April. October and April are barren, dry months in Calgary – it was shockingly refreshing to see what it was like in Seattle in October and April. All lushness and green, chilly, but not overly so. October had beautiful red leaves on many trees and vines, and April really was full of nice spring showers, and flowers, without waiting for May!

    I would definitely consider moving to Seattle or perhaps some place in the Okanagan Valley….just need to live in a place where my husband can continue to work in his field so we keep the same (or better) level of income. Plus, I wouldn’t want to move away from my parents, so we’d have to get them to move where we were going, or at least close by. (they’d never move to the US anyway, but I think it would be nice for my mom to retire in BC as she really is so much happier in warmer/greener locations – she definitely has SAD and would greatly benefit from the light box therapy, I think.)

    Anyway, sorry for the super long comment!

  4. No worries. One of the things I always found interesting about travelling is many hotels have the lights that you speak of right in the ceiling — especially in Europe. The thought is the light helps with jet lag.

  5. Interesting: Your circadian rhythm is running faster than a normal circadian rhythm, causing you to produce the wrong hormones at the wrong time of day. This means you may not have enough energy during the day, you tire too soon and awaken too quickly. By shifting your circadian rhythm back to a normal cycle, you’ll experience increased energy with the ability to sleep better during the night.

  6. Any chance that book belongs to you (The English Colony)? Would you consider selling it? I’ve been trying to locate a copy as our family is in it. I would love to be able to pass this history on to our children and grandchildren.

  7. Hi Michele, the book is not mine. I borrowed it from the Calgary Library (they have two copies in the city). Perhaps the Nightingale Community Association might know where to obtain a copy.

  8. I am very interested in purchasing the book The English Colony Nightingale and District by Harvey Dougan. I have seen the digintal copy but would love to have access to the book so that my Dad Richard Osmond (does not use computers) who is featured in the book (he was born 1826 in Alberta) and now in UK. His family were farmers and emigrated to Canada in 1922. I would so appreciate it if someone could point me in the right direction. Thanks.

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