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Christmas Eve blizzard snowballed into a tradition for mayor's family

Guided by The Shepherd, the family found its way home and, in the process, discovered a story that has become a talisman of sorts

Editor's Note: We have a gift for you today. We've asked a few 'community leaders' to submit stories about their favourite Christmas memories. We kick off today's stories with this account of a memorable Christmas Eve that turned into a tradition for Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke and his family.


It was Christmas Eve, many years ago (circa 1990) and it was one of those nights when you shouldn’t be on the road, even if you didn’t know it when you first started out.

Chris and I had packed up the kids in our van and headed to her parents’ place in Etobicoke. 

As we started, there was some snow falling but nothing unusual and the forecast was far from ominous. However, as we continued down the highway, the snow did get thicker and the wind did get stronger. 

We got to the point where it was too late to turn back, so the decision at this stage was to keep going or maybe find a place along the route to grab a hotel for the night. However, our hearts tugged us towards Chris’ parents’ home.

Visibility continued to worsen and we were crawling at a snail’s pace. If indeed we were going to make it, it would take hours.

Just as our doubts about our situation were highest, the most curious coincidence took place… CBC Radio began to broadcast a story by someone named Fireside Al.

It turned out to be a magnificent story about a pilot who, like ourselves, found himself facing dangerous blizzard conditions while trying to reach home on Christmas Eve when he ran into significant problems.

As we listened to the story that blustery night, we began to identify with the perils of the pilot’s circumstances and curiously, forget about some of our own. As the story continued, so did we. Down the snowy dangerous roads, getting ever closer to our destination.

As we drove, trying to find our way through the wind-driven continuous blanket of snow, we also became concerned for the fate of this pilot and his own navigation, 33 years to the day before our trip on an equally frigid night in blizzard conditions. Although, in the pilot’s situation, not getting home would mean crashing into the nighttime North Sea.

I do not want to play spoiler if you haven’t heard the story. Both Chris and I strongly recommend the 30-minute listen and I would suggest, if pushed, our kids would as well. It’s just that they have been subjected to it dozens of times, but, they are good sports!

Suffice it to say, we did indeed make it to Chris’ parents’ place. And, over the many years since, The Shepherd, written by Frederick Forsyth and read by Fireside Al (Alan Maitland), has become an annual tradition, listened to on Christmas Eve by the warmth of the fire and the light of the decorated tree.

For Chris and me, it is a reminder of earlier times when the draw to be home for the holidays exceeded the obstacles in our path perhaps, being partially led by our youthful lack of common sense.

CBC Radio 1 plays The Shepherd virtually every Christmas Eve on As It Happens which starts at 6:30 p.m. or you can find it on-line, anytime. You will likely not expect the ending...

A safe and happy holiday to all!


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