Record-breaking snowfall: Cape Breton hockey players, cadets rise to the occasion

By The Canadian Press

GLACE BAY, N.S. — When hockey coach Darrell MacAulay was asked to help an elderly neighbour who needed snow cleared from her walkway in Glace Bay, N.S., he knew he was going to need some extra muscle.

Residents of eastern Nova Scotia have been digging out from a massive snowfall that started last Friday and did not let up until Monday, when it became clear that an astonishing 150 centimetres of heavy, wet snow had fallen on parts of Cape Breton, prompting a local state of emergency.

On Tuesday, MacAulay and four members of the Glace Bay Miners hockey team swapped their sticks for shovels, piled into a car and set off to help with the big dig. Dressed in their black jerseys, emblazoned with the fiery red Miners logo, the boys and their coach cleared the woman’s walkway in no time.

Sixteen-year-old Logan Roper was one of the players who answered the call on Tuesday. He said he couldn’t believe the height of the snowbank in front of the woman’s home.

“We had to climb over it first to get to where her step was,” he said in an interview. “And we said it was going to take a while, but, surprisingly, we got it done in 30 minutes.”

After MacAulay posted a photo on Facebook showing his team resting on snowbanks next to a cleared walkway, requests for help poured in. “You have to realize, a lot of people were in the same predicament,” MacAulay said. “We had a lot of people who couldn’t get out of their houses.”

On Thursday, the team, which now numbered 16, shovelled out at least eight houses.

As the snow-clearing effort continued across the region on Friday, other stories emerged about neighbours helping neighbours in need.

In Sydney, the largest community in Cape Breton, about 100 officer cadets from the Canadian Coast Guard College were called in to help clear driveways and walkways.

“The snow is impressive with the drifts coming off the ocean, some are as high as eight or 10 feet,” said Matthew Page, a 28-year-old senior cadet from Windsor, N.S., who is studying to be a navigator. “On the sides of the highway, it almost feels like driving through a tunnel.”

Page, who was leading a team of about a dozen cadets on Thursday afternoon, said residents trapped in their homes were thrilled to get some help. “All have been amazingly appreciative,” Page said. “They’re just happy to be out.”

In another part of Sydney, Karnail Singh and a group of volunteers spent days digging out stranded neighbours and their vehicles. The 27-year-old graduate of Cape Breton University was already off work to prepare for a trip to India to get married, and he figured he may as well help out.

“It’s just a community thing that we should all do,” Singh said in an interview Friday as he drove to Montreal to catch his plane. “If somebody needs help, we should go out and start helping, if we are able to do that.”

With the support of Khalsa Aid, an international organization that provides disaster relief, Singh rented an excavator on Monday. He and four volunteers used it to free snow-covered vehicles and shovel out towering snowdrifts from doorways. Over the next two days, Singh’s team grew to about 20. He figures they freed about 60 cars and shovelled out about 20 homes.

But not everyone rises to the occasion when faced with such adversity.

In New Glasgow, N.S., the RCMP confirmed Friday that a local man had been charged with threatening a snowplow driver earlier in the week.

The Pictou County RCMP said the 66-year-old man was charged with uttering threats after the Mounties were called Tuesday to Mount William Road, which is west of the small town.

The man was arrested without incident and police returned the next day to execute a search warrant at a home on Stellarton Road in New Glasgow. The Mounties seized firearms and ammunition, and on Friday released a photo showing a dozen long-guns, one pistol and a collection of ammunition.

The man was also charged with unsafe storage of a firearm and is scheduled to appear in court April 8.

Environment Canada says about 60 to 70 centimetres of snow fell on Pictou County last weekend, and as of Wednesday night 29 of the county’s roads remained blocked.

As of Friday afternoon, the weekend forecast for Nova Scotia was calling for a few flurries or showers.

Still, there was concern that with some rain and rising temperatures, the existing snowpack will become extremely heavy and difficult to move. That is raising concerns about possibly dangerous loads on roofs and decks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.

— By Hina Alam in Fredericton, Sarah Smellie in St. John’s, N.L., and Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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