COLUMN: Big storm made big impression
British Columbia is known to have more than its share of windbags but the biggest wind to blow through these parts had nothing to do with politics.
Her name was Freda, and it has been half a century since the nasty girl stormed through these parts leaving tons of debris in her wake.
Typhoon Freda was a tropical storm that started in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean near the equator, eventually making a beeline for the Pacific Northwest.
She hit our shores on the evening of Oct. 12, 1962, and boy did she make an entrance. Freda ripped through Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland taking down trees and much more in her wake.
I was six years old when Freda came calling. My parents had chosen that weekend for a respite from raising four boys—which they fully deserved considering I was the oldest and the youngest was three. They had hired a babysitter so they could head south to see the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle before it wrapped up.
According to reports, Freda came packing winds of 90 kilometres an hour gusting up to 145 km/h. She reduced tall trees to matchsticks all over the city.
Our matronly babysitter huddled us in our modest South Burnaby home, but with the windows rattling and thunder rolling we wanted to watch the show. While we did, she scurried around the house looking for buckets to place around the house to gather the rain where the roof was leaking.
The lightning provided the only light we had because Freda had knocked out the power all the way to Hope. An account on the BC Hydro website said some were without electricity for up to a week,
Newscaster John Ashbridge, a New Westminster resident, told me Freda helped put CKNW on the regional radio map because it had just purchased a power unit from the air force. That meant it could keep broadcasting when few stations up and down the coast could.
I don't recall being scared, although I should have been considering Freda took seven lives. She is considered the strongest storm to ever be recorded in the area.
My most vivid memory is of the next day. Once the ill-natured Freda left town, the skies cleared and the morning after dawned a bright and sunny fall day.
I woke up to look out our front window and see shingles strewn everywhere. Lawns up and down the street were littered with them. The roads and backyards were too. Burnaby had turned into Shingle City.
Tree branches were all over the place. Of course, there were lots of trees for Freda to wreak havoc on since most homeowners in that era didn't make a habit of cutting down trees on their property. These days, that's an activity that has as much remorse as slicing a banana into a cereal bowl.
In a story about Freda on its website, Hydro said the damage in today's dollars would be about $600 million. Roofing companies, naturally, profited the most.
My parents beat a hasty retreat from Seattle, abandoning their Space Needle plans. It was the first time they had spent a night in the Emerald City. Bizarrely enough, the second was May 2, 1996. They had accompanied me to a Seattle Mariners game when a 5.6 magnitude earthquake shook the Kingdome during the sixth inning. Although we stayed the night, my mother and father vowed to never to book a motel room in Seattle again for fear of another natural disaster.
• Grant Granger is a reporter with the NewsLeader.