Yukon Nuggets

  • A thermometre reading colder than 60 below zero at Dawson. Date: ca. 1920. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7671.

1947 Yukon Nuggets



Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does much about it - so the old saying goes. Well, back in 1947, Gordon O'Toole did something about it - and his work put the Yukon in the weather record book.

That winter was one of the coldest ever. A deep ridge of high pressure settled in over the Territory and just wouldn't move. Everywhere, from Dawson to Mayo to Whitehorse to Snag, the thermometer was motionless for weeks on end.

Temperatures were not metric then but, rather, were measured in Fahrenheit. For all of January, the thermometers around the Yukon had bottomed out. Frigid readings in the -60s prevailed for endless weeks.

Today such conditions might result in a declaration of emergency measures but, back then, the hardy Yukoners toughed it out. No one on the 'outside' knew what was happening until Gordon O'Toole took a reading in Snag on February 3rd.

At that time, Snag, near Beaver Creek, was an emergency military airstrip with a weather office consisting of 16 men.

It had been bone-chilling cold for weeks. Weatherman O'Toole telegraphed the head of Canada's meteorological operations in Toronto that if it got much colder, his equipment would quit and the thermometer reading would be incorrect.

The reply was that if the mercury should settle all the way to the bottom of the bulb, it would be colder than -80 Fahrenheit because that was as low as the readings would go. O'Toole was told to mark a line the outside of the glass with a file, exactly where the mercury lay. Then he was instructed to carefully wrap up the thermometer and send it to Toronto on the next available military aircraft.

At 7:20 on the morning of February 3rd, 1947, Gordon O'Toole did just that. He estimated the temperature was -83 degrees. When head office finally received the historic thermometer, they calculated a reading based on his line. It read -81.4deg; Fahrenheit or -63deg; Celsius.

It was the coldest that had ever been recorded anywhere in North America, and a record that remains until this day.


What were conditions at Snag on that historic morning? O'Toole said that ice outside was so hard it took five minutes inside before a trace of moisture appeared on it. A glass of water tossed in the air made a hissing sound and fell as ice pellets; an ax head shattered as it bounced off a block of ice. Rubber had the feel of cement. Wood was petrified. So, it is said, were the guys at the isolated weather office.


This was Snag on February 3rd, 1947 when the Yukon entered a record-breaking deep freeze. The news was transmitted around the world and the Yukon's image of being a land of ice and cold was reinforced for years to come.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.