Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Change in the Weather - 1899-1900 in Manitoba, Canada -Blog Action Day 2009

Today is Blog Action Day, 2009.

This year's theme? 'Climate Change'.

In recent years, more and more of us have become aware of issues relating to climate change. We have dropped many habits that we now believe contribute to climate changes that are affecting people around the world and will affect our descendants in the future. I haven't used a clothes dryer for over 2 years; I use public transit almost always; I try to buy local goods, especially local foods. There still seem to be 'doubters' though and I do think some of my ancestors would have quite a bit to say to them.

Two of my Canadian ancestors were William Irwin and Margaret Carmichael, farmers who moved to Newdale, Manitoba, Canada in the 1880s, from Victoria County in Ontario.

For them, I'm sure it was almost automatic to think about the weather and I dare say they must have talked about it a fair bit. The state of the weather meant everything to their livelihood and to the well being and safety of their family, while for me, a 'city girl' who grew up in Vancouver in southwestern British Columbia, a place blessed with a very temporate climate, thinking about the weather didn't mean much more than 'Shall I take an umbrella or chance it?'

In their time in Manitoba, weather is often mentioned in newspaper accounts whether it was sunny, snowy or 'same as always'. Changes in weather patterns receive special mention.

"No sleighing, no snow, beautiful weather, and cattle out to pasture this 4th day of January, 1900 is something exceptional for Manitoba, but a change occurred yesterday and a slight snow has fallen, so that sleighing is expected shortly." Minnedosa Tribune, Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada, 4 January, 1900, page 3.

For me, 'sleighing' brings to mind winter fun. For Margaret and William, it also meant an opportunity for those with freight to haul it out. There's a reasonably ecology-friendly and economical form of transport we in Canada don't think of much in 2009!

However, even in 1900, some were thinking of less environmentally friendly innovations. A Mr. S. Anderson of Winnipeg, Manitoba, demonstrated his patented Anderson Snow Locomotive which could be adapted to different conditions on the prairies with sleigh runners, wheels or rollers for hauling freight, for example. (Morning Telegram, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 13 March, 1900, page 2. Canadian Patent CA 59537, Snow Locomotive. Sigurdur Anderson, Issued 1898-04-05, Classification 305/15. Canadian Patents Database, Canadian Intellectual Property Office, Government of Canada.)

The previous year, the weather had been so much colder than usual, some low temperature records still stand. A few newspaper writers sound a bit concerned, even when joking about it.

"CLANWILLIAM--Have we not had a cold snap? By Jove, Jack Frost is doing his best to make bears of it - keep in the house and suck our paws. Generally a cold spell has lasted only about three days; now it runs on weeks. Our climate is undergoing a change; we will have to go to the south of France." Minnedosa Tribune, Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada, 2 February 1899, page 2.

In fact, the beginning of 1899 was particulary bitter in North America generally. (To learn more about this, do read "Freezing America: The Cold Wave of 1899" by the Weather Doctor, Keith C. Heidorn.)

I believe if William and Margaret had had any idea they could 'do' something to arrest catastrophic weather changes in their time and ours, they would have read all the articles in the newspapers, discussed and debated the issues with their neighbours and friends, and perhaps been more ready than I was initially to take action, particularly on the local level, to curtail activities that affect climate change.

Of course, in many ways, my farming ancestors lived more simply than I. Most of their food was grown at home or bought locally, for example, although supplies and equipment from away was transported in the main by rail and many trips they had were by rail. Early in their Manitoba life they likely used coal as well as wood for heat, but I know they had a generator for electricity in their house in town. Still I doubt Great Grandmother could have even dreamed of the sometimes wasteful conveniences I use routinely.

By all accounts, her husband, William Irwin, was interested in anything new, mind you. Could he have resisted buying or driving a Snow Locomotive? And I understand he did have an automobile. Would Great Grandmother have 'rationed' his jaunts around the district? I hope so!

1 comment:

Natalie said...

I like your post too - very interesting how you have linked the topic of climate change to the past as well... you obviously have a good feel for how your ancestors lived.

Thanks for the Canadian focus and history, great blog!
Ms. Writer, Meaford