Sunday, 12 August 2018

Winnipeg's Hottest Day: July 11, 1936

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
July 13, 1936, Winnipeg Free Press

As we wait for Sunday's high temperature of 38° C to kick in, I thought I would look back and see what it was like on Winnipeg's hottest day.

Winnipeg's highest recorded temperature was 42.2° C, (108° Fahrenheit), and came on Saturday, July 11, 1936. This was the mid-point of an extended heat wave that gripped much of the central Canada and the U.S. for nearly two weeks and helped add to the misery of The Depression by destroying yet another year's crop.

The Free Press described the day like this: "An indication of the horrid hours ahead came early in the morning as a southwest breeze seemed to carry on its wings hotter and hotter temperatures. At noon, the wind was like a stifling draft from an open furnace."

To make matters worse was the humidity. According to one reporter, the humidity recorded outside the Tribune building was as high as 90 per cent.

The city's previous hottest day was 39.4° set on August 24, 1896. it was broken on four occasions during a seven day period during that heat wave: July 6, July 11, July 12 and July 13.

July 13, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

The extreme heat of the July 11th was followed by a high of 40° on Sunday the 12th and proved too much for some.

Over that weekend, at least
17 people died and another 20 were hospitalized due to the heat. Seven others were considered "incidental deaths" as they drowned in rivers or streams trying to escape the heat.

Animals didn't escape the effects. Thirty horses were reported as dying as a result of heat exhaustion.

Wading pool at Notre Dame Park (City of Winnipeg Archives)

For residents of the city, especially those with little money, options to escape the heat were limited.

Many were said to have moved into root cellars, if they had them. For others, it was taking to city parks and pools. The Tribune reported that: "...parks were havens of comfort to residents in their immediate neighbourhoods where clothes were shed to the limit allowed by the law...."

For some, cold baths or hoses were their only reprieve, which led to a record daily water consumption of 11,295,669 litres on Saturday the 11th.

July 14, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

For many businesses, the impact of the heat wave was a positive one as those with the means tried to make their lives more bearable.

Taxi services did a brisk business as people avoided walking or stuffing themselves into overcrowded streetcars.

Beverage producers did well. This included breweries, dairies and soft drink manufacturers. The regional manager of Orange Crush Co. told the Tribune that their sales were up 75 per cent over the previous July and that, "We have never done such a business before."

Theatres outfitted with cooling systems drew big crowds. Eaton's and The Bay, which also had cooling systems, saw more customers and an increase in sales of things like handkerchiefs, underwear and men's shirts.

The losers were smaller stores in the downtown, where the temperature felt even hotter than the recorded totals. Shoppers were simply not interested in wandering.

Also, cows produced much less milk during this period, which had a knock-on effect for dairies and bakeries.

Sports were impacted as junior soccer and football games were cancelled for the weekend. Golf courses sat deserted.

There was a slight reprieve on the weekend of July 17 - 18, when the temperature only reached 28.9 on Saturday and 27.7 on Sunday. By that point, it was estimated that the death toll had reached 29.

The relief was only temporary, though. By the end of July, another extended heat wave gripped the prairies.

July 13, 1936, Brandon Sun

The weekend of July 11 - 12 saw the entire province bake under temperatures above 40°. Manitoba's hottest temperature ever recorded was a scorching 44.4° on July 11 in St. Albans and on July 12 at Emerson.

Brandon also recorded its hottest day at 43.3° on July 11th. In that city, two people passed out in the downtown due to the heat but, it appears, there were no deaths.


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