February 5, 2015
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Forty-five years ago, around this time of year, I had paid a weekend visit to my fiancée in Saskatchewan and headed out Sunday afternoon for the six hour drive back to the Manitoba town where I managed a country grain elevator. I hadn’t gone very far when I came up behind a semi that was going far too slow for my taste. The snow was blowing, but I knew I could see far enough to pass this slowpoke. I was alongside the semi when I saw headlights coming toward me through the drifting snow. I hit the brakes, hard, and was just able to tuck back in behind the semi before the oncoming vehicle whizzed by. That took all the hurry out of me for the rest of that day.
Tomorrow they will be celebrating my cousin Julia’s ninety-first birthday in Moose Jaw. I would dearly love to be there, but the forecast is for snow, winds up to 50km/h and a possibility of freezing rain in the afternoon and evening. The highway to Moose Jaw passes through a river valley with a fairly steep descent and climb that worries me just thinking about the possibility of ice on the pavement. I am just eighteen years younger than Julia, my eyesight isn’t as good as it was 45 years ago, and I’m not as brave (foolhardy?) as I was back then. We are going to stay put. Maybe there will be a better day in the near future to make that 2½ hour trip.
December 2, 2014
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A few days ago my wife and I got to talking about a catchy advertising jingle of fifty years ago that was heard incessantly at this time of year. My wife even remembered all the words and sang them. It was the theme song of a government of Canada campaign to help building trades people keep working year round. It started with promoting the idea of homeowners doing interior renovations during the cold months, when carpenters, plumbers and electricians were readily available.
The idea of winter construction work took off from there. Nowadays the construction of new houses hardly slows down in wintertime. With the use of plastic sheeting and construction heaters it is even possible to pour concrete in sub-zero temperatures. The innovative campaign that began 50 years ago has been a resounding success, there is hardly a blip in employment for people in the construction trades during the winter months.
On another front there is still a need for some innovative thinking. It is said of Saskatchewan cities that they have the world’s most efficient snow removal system: it’s called spring.
It might have been better if my wife and I had never lived in Montreal. But we did spend four years in that city, which is reputed to receive the heaviest annual snowfall of any major city in the world. And they knew what to do when it snowed. It took an average of four days after a major snowfall to have all the snow cleaned up – major traffic routes, commercial streets, residential streets, sidewalks included. City crews and subcontractors worked in shifts around the clock; small tracked snowplows pushed snow from the sidewalks into the street, the snow in the street was plowed into a windrow down the centre of the street and then a loader would come along and blow the snow into a steady stream of trucks who hauled it to snow dumps. It was a marvel to watch the coordination and thoroughness of the job.
We had four inches of snow a week and a half ago. My wife and I were in Saskatoon four days later and the main thoroughfares had been cleaned fairly well. That was it, and the city seemed to feel they were doing a better job than in other years. Residential areas will probably not see a snowplow all winter. For most streets of the city the snow is left to be compressed by traffic into a rutted ice pack.
There was another eight inches of snow last Saturday and I have a doctor’s appointment in the city tomorrow morning. That will no doubt further my education on how to drive on icy, rutted streets.
I’m all in favour of reviving the old jingle and applying it to snow removal: Why wait for spring – do it now!