Plus all kinds of odds and ends about
The coldest place in Canada? A frigid title happily surrendered
By ROY MacGREGOR
Tuesday, December 21, 2004 - Page A2
There can be nothing quite so relative as cold.
On a Monday morning in which the temperature remained stuck at -272 in the Boomerang Nebula -- the coldest place in the universe, according to NASA scientists -- the alarms were sounding all the way from Iqaluit to Miami.
Most of Canada, with exception of the bookends along the lower mainland of British Columbia and the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, was caught in a cold snap, the temperature plunging so low in Toronto that there was talk of sending in the army to rub fingers and toes.
It was cold from the top of the continent to the bottom.
In Washington, the headline said "Flurries And Blustery Cold Descend, Creating Hazards," although the story also noted that the falling snow was melting on impact.
In Miami, the headline advised readers to "Grab That Fleece: It's Cold Outside," with early morning lows "expected to approach 40 degrees [Fahrenheit], but the wind-chill factor will make it feel like the temperature is in the mid- to upper 30s. . . ." In White River, Ont., they would break out the Hawaiian shirts for that.
"It was -36 last night," Donna Leclerc said from Nora's Gift Shop, the little Highway 17 roadside attraction she has run with her mother, Nora Katzenback, for the past 15 years.
"That's the coldest so far this winter." But it's nothing compared to the coldest ever for White River, the small town north of Lake Superior that long claimed to be the coldest place in Canada, even though it wasn't.
A sign directly outside Nora's Gift Shop marks that astonishing drop -- a big thermometer showing -72F/-58C the way other towns, like Wawa up the way, put up such curiosities as a giant Canada goose to attract tourists.
The curious come in all summer long and talk, inevitably, about the weather or Winnie the Pooh, the bear cub that travelled all the way from White River to the London zoo and ended up the inspiration for A.A. Milne's lovely little book about Christopher Robin and his favourite playmate.
This past summer, Winnie's Hometown Festival, the town's annual celebration, had a Hawaiian theme. No one knows why, but no one much cared; it was just another thing to talk about.
In winter, the strangers come in off the buses -- the Greyhound stops for breaks at Nora's on the morning, afternoon and supper runs -- and the talk is mostly about the weather.
Going down to -33 Christmas Eve, I hear. . .
Supposed to be 30 centimetres of snow on the way. . .
The coldest temperature ever recorded in a place with full-time inhabitants is, according to the Guinness World Records, the Siberian village of Oymyakon, where the temperature has been known to fall to -70. The coldest temperature ever recorded in a place with part-time inhabitants is Vostock in Antarctica, which set a world record back on July 21, 1983, with a thermometer reading of -89. Eight years ago, Vostock broke its own record with a brass-monkey reading of -91.
All pales, of course, when compared to outer space and the Boomerang Nebula, where the temperature is so cold in this massive cloud of dust and gas formed from a dying star that National Geographic has referred to it as the "cosmic refrigerator." The "Canadian refrigerator" of White River is, by comparison, a blast furnace.
A while back, Donna Leclerc says, the town painted over the part of the giant thermometer that claimed this spot was "The Coldest Place in Canada" and just left it at "White River Welcomes You." "I don't know exactly why," she says. "Some place out West has the record now, I think." Actually, it's west and north -- Snag, Yukon -- where the temperature plunged to -62.7 on Feb. 3, 1947. A while back, Wilf Blezard, one of four weathermen then stationed at Snag, told the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska that he could remember stepping outside to toss water in the air and watch it freeze into pellets before hitting the ground.
The Snag airport no longer exists. It was built as a safety landing strip for northern pilots and fell out of use. It is still traceable, however, on a hill overlooking the White River.
A different White River than the northwestern Ontario town, of course, but it makes it easier to remember for those determined to avoid the cold spots while they hunker down and wait for spring.
"People come in and ask, 'Is it always this cold here?' " says Donna Leclerc. "As far as I'm concerned, we were beat years ago and they can have the record." Besides, she says, this current cold snap isn't going to last.
"They say it's going to warm up tomorrow," she says as she waits for the bus on the supper run to pull in.
Warm up? "Supposed to go up to -9," she says.
See what we mean by the cold being relative?
And, for those wanting to brush up on their language skills in preparation for their next border crossing, the Canadian Word of the Day