Linnea Wagner enjoyed the facilities at Lions Park recently to cool off.

COLUMN: In search of Nelson’s hottest day

How far do you have to go back to find the warmest temperature in the city’s history?

What community recorded the highest temperature in Canada in 1977?

Full marks if you said Salmo.

The recent heat wave got me wondering about all-time record highs, and it turns out there’s a Wikipedia page devoted to such trivia. While the list is subject to the existence or non-existence of recording stations, to my surprise, BC generally and West Kootenay/Boundary specifically are very well represented.

Between 1900 and 2014, Canada’s hottest annual temperature was recorded in BC 66 times — Saskatchewan was the runner up with 32, followed by Manitoba with 12, and Alberta and Ontario with eight each.

Lytton has been Canada’s annual hotspot 14 times, followed by Spences Bridge and Osoyoos at eight each (Osoyoos’ appearances all fell between 1992 and 2002).

Communities closer to home have led the nation in sweltering temperatures a combined ten times.

In 1922, 1923, and 1924, Grand Forks tied for the hottest place in Canada with temperatures of 40, 38.9, and 42.8 degrees Celsius respectively. (In the latter year, Waneta was the other place to reach that scorching mark.)

In 1927, 1928, and 1929, Greenwood held or tied the hottest temperature when it reached 43.3, 41.7, and 42.2 degrees respectively.

When the mercury rose to 43.9 in Rock Creek on July 29, 1934, it was, at the time, the hottest temperature ever recorded in Canada. However, the mark was exceeded on July 5, 1937 in Midale and Yellow Grass, Sask when it got up to 45 degrees in both places. (A separate, contradictory Wikipedia list claims those towns reached an unbelievable 51 degrees that day.)

The BC record was broken on July 16-17, 1941 when it got up to 44.4 degrees in Lytton, Lillooet, and Chinook Cove. (Rock Creek’s record day remains the 11th hottest temperature on the books in Canada.)

Grand Forks had Canada’s warmest temperature of 1940 at 42.2 degrees, and Waneta topped the list in 1945 at 41.1.

However, in the last 70 years, a local community has only once registered on the hottest-place-of-the year list — Salmo, as mentioned above, in 1977 when it reached 41.5 degrees. But reviewing daily data from the National Climate Archive, while it hit at least 40 degrees in Salmo on three days in August 1977, the hottest I could find was 40.6 on the 18th.

As for Nelson, the data goes back to 1904. On June 28 of this year, it reached 37 degrees, breaking the old mark for that day of 33.9 set in 1932. According to theweathernetwork.com, 29 other BC communities also set new records — Castlegar also hit 37 degrees, besting the old mark of 35 set in 1922; Creston got up to 38.1, nearly five degrees higher than the 33.3 recorded in 1926. Kamloops broke a record that dated back to 1896.

Although figuring out Nelson’s all-time high temperature isn’t simple — you have to comb through monthly highs year-by-year, and I could have easily overlooked some — the best candidate I came up with was July 28, 1934 when it hit 39.4 (just shy of 103 degrees Fahrenheit).

I checked the Nelson Daily News to see how people coped with that sort of heat in the pre-air conditioning era. The big headline of the day was “Italian rebuke is aimed at Hitler; note demands disbanding of troops.”

The secondary headline was “Mills in paths of fires in Kootenays.” The story began: “Spread by a strong gale, fires ranged over a great area of Nelson Sunday night, endangering two mills, valuable stands of timber and blocking the Nelson-Nelway highway.”

Another story confirmed “Nelson residents had reason to complain about the heat Saturday. Soaring to 103 degrees, the government thermometer recorded the highest temperature in over 13 years.”

They only had access to records back to 1921, but said in that time “only once before has the mercury gone over the 100 mark. That was in 1930 when 102 degrees was recorded.” (Meanwhile, in Warfield that day, it hit 41.1 degrees.)

So how did people beat the heat? They jumped in the lake.

Under the headline “Nelson area a bathing beach; water teems with bathers,” another story read: “Shore of the West Arm in and near Nelson were one continuous bathing beach Sunday, when uncounted hundreds went into the water under the spur of the hot wave.

“Actual count showed at times 150 bathers on the float at Lakeside park and of the subsidiary float, apart from other scores in the water on the four sides, besides other hundreds bathing or wading inshore all along the park frontage. Possibly 1,000 were in the water at the park during the day.”

The story added that every beach for 10 miles upstream from Nelson was covered with bathers.

The lake is still a nice way to cool off, but I’ll be quite happy if we don’t break further temperature records this summer.

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