Marilou and the Big Snow

Susan Flanagan
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A day everyone who grew up on Bell’s Turn remembers

Those of you who follow my column, know that Bell’s Turn in St. John’s in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was an action-packed place filled with children — 34 children in four houses on our end of the Turn alone. These children of all ages played together outdoors all day no matter what the season.

Marilou and the Big Snow. — photo by Thinkstock.com

This winter reminds me of winters of my childhood, which involved plastic-bag lined boots, skating on Kenny’s Pond and tobogganing on Tracey’s Hill. Even tobogganing down the windshield of my father’s ’57 wood-panelled Ford.

But the most famous snow story on Bell’s Turn, the details of which have captivated children for almost 50 years, is the story of how Marilou Stamp got buried by the city snowblower.

In honour of Marilou’s parents, Gordon and Mary Stamp, who both recently passed away, I will recount here, as best I can, the story of Marilou and The Big Snow.

The City of St. John’s was covered with a thick blanket of snow. In fact, so much snow had fallen on that winter day in 1965 that the children of St. John’s had a holiday from school.

Marilou Stamp (now Brummund) was No. 8 of 10 children who grew up on the lower part of Bell’s Turn on a wooded lot with two driveways, not far from Mercers’ Field and The Pioneer Restaurant.

Across Portugal Cove Road from the end of Bell’s Turn was Cook’s Store (later Brown’s, up until last year) where we children were welcome regulars. When this particular storm hit the city, Marilou was eight years old and was outside with her mother and siblings at the bottom of Bell’s Turn, digging out from the storm.

“We were helping Mom shovel the driveway when this machine came by blowing snow off the road,” says Marilou from her home in Red Deer, Alta. “We were in amazement. We had never seen anything like it before. We asked Mom if we could follow it and she said yes as long as we turned back at the top of the Turn.”

Neighbouring children joined in the march behind the huge piece of equipment that blew snow off the road all the way up Bell’s Turn.

“We followed behind it like it was the Pied Piper,” says Anne (Marshall) Clift, who was among the 10 or so children amazed by the fascinating machine.

“We were all chasing the snowblower and we went up through the field (above Dwyer’s Garage) while the snowblower drove up the road. That’s how the snow came to cover her, because we were all chasing the snow rather than the blower itself,” remembers Gerry Marshall.

Marilou also remembers cutting through the meadow at the top of Bell’s Turn.

“I can remember the aqua-coloured snow pants and jacket.… It was knee deep snow and I remember struggling to move and then snow … I can feel that snow hitting the back of my head and back. And falling over and being buried.”

Suddenly, remembers Anne Clift, the snowblower operator stopped and asked where the girl with the blue jacket had gone.

“’What happened to the girl in the blue snowsuit?’ he asked.”

“She must have gone home,” Anne remembers the children telling him; so fascinated were they with the blower they failed to notice that Marilou had disappeared.

But he knew that Marilou Stamp had been there one minute and was gone the next. And he wasn’t the only one.

Gerry Burke, a mother of two boys, was shovelling snow out of her driveway at the top of the Turn across the street from the meadow when she noticed the string of children parading up through the snow-covered field. She counted 10 heads following the shower of snow.

She did another head count a couple of minutes later.

Lo and behold, one was missing.

“I remember my friends walking over me as they were trying to avoid the snow from the blower,” says Marilou.

“Then I fell and curled up in a fetal position in the snow. It was so hot and I was buried long enough that my nose started bleeding.”

Between Burke and the snowblower operator, they raced to Dwyer’s Garage and got another man and shovels, and they began to dig.

“I remember when they dug me up (and saw the blood) they were concerned they had hit me with the shovel. I remember blood being on my jacket and thinking I was going to be in trouble with Mom.”  

The snowblower operator brought Marilou home to her mother.

“The driver came to see me that night after he finished work to check on me. He gave me a $2 bill. Someone went to Cook’s store and bought me a vanilla Dixie Cup and a pack of Vicks Cough drops.

“I don’t remember what my mother said (when we arrived), but I remember the $2 bill,” says Marilou, laughing.

“God had higher plans for me,” says Marilou who is now the mother of four daughters. She fully understands how the day could have easily turned tragic.

“I remember the day like it happened yesterday,” she says. “My mother always said, ‘But for the grace of God and Gerry Burke, we would have had a tragedy that day.’ I’m eternally grateful to both my guardian angels (Mrs. Burke and the snowblower operator) for saving me.”

Susan Flanagan is a journalist who has just been recommended a book by

Marilou Stamp, who says that for years after she was buried she used to get a headache whenever she’d see a snow blower. The book is “Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife” by Eben Alexander MD. She can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.

Cross-country skiing feedback:

John Doyle writes:  “I was on the upper trails in Pippy Park … and met a skier walking his dog, so I think peaceful co-existence is doable.… The main trails on Three Pond Barrens are in excellent condition. Walkers don’t even need snowshoes. A rarity for St.  John’s, that will no doubt change on Friday night (Feb. 14).”

Lovin’ The Loop Feedback

Marlayne writes: “Great article. I just did a blog post about the Loop as well and mine had the same title as yours :) The loop really is awesome! http://thehomingbeacon.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/lovin-the-loop/”

Robert writes: “I’m not a skater, probably because there was no The Loop when I was a kid. I bet The Loop actually saves money in health care costs alone. Great job St. John’s and I hope the bedroom communities tear a page out of this story and apply it to their rec plans.”

Organizations: Brummund

Geographic location: Cook, The Big Snow.The, The Pioneer Restaurant.Across Portugal Cove Road Red Deer Pippy Park

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