Let it snow … and break out those shovels!

One year ago, we were facing an epic Vancouver Snowmageddon. This weekend the flurries begin and it’s a good reminder to all to prepare for salting and shovel duty on the sidewalks that line your property. Last Christmas, we ranted about the difficulty faced by those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers (and really, anyone at all) to walk our slippery streets when the snow is left to ice over. Don’t be the one all the neighbours scowl at as they walk past.

Your sidewalk should look like this:

A well-maintained sidewalk on 5th St. Photo: Waferboard
A well-maintained sidewalk on 5th St. Photo: Waferboard

NOT this:

Naughty property owners on 4th St. have doomed pedestrians to slide down icy 4th St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd
Naughty property owners on 4th St. have doomed pedestrians to slide down icy 4th St. Photo: Dennis Sylvester Hurd

Despite sidewalk woes, I do love the snow. Here are some of my favourite snowy photos from previous New Westminster snowfalls:

A quiet, snowy street in New West. Photo: Graham Ballantyne.
A quiet, snowy street in New West. Photo: Graham Ballantyne.
A creative snow elephantman at the Quay. Photo: BCOL CCCP
A creative snow elephantman at the Quay. Photo: BCOL CCCP
Snow covers the playground at Queen's Park. Photo: juki_ruki
Snow covers the playground at Queen's Park. Photo: juki_ruki
The cannon at City Hall. Photo: Waferboard
The cannon at City Hall. Photo: Waferboard

Yes, it IS that bad – snow shoveling redux

Just about anything anyone can talk about now is the crazy snowfall that we’ve ad in the lower mainland this holiday season. The way it usually goes is this:

Native BC’r: Wow – isn’t this crazy? We NEVER get snow here! And if we do, it usually melts!

Former Ontarioan: Are you kidding? This isn’t snow. It’s nothing! You should see what we had back home! And hey at least we get more sun this way…
At this point I’m tired of talking about it – except for the fact that a holiday with about 14 solid days involving snow, wind and/or a heavy snowfall, I can’t believe that people still haven’t gotten the message: Shovelling your walk is NOT just about you.

Both our T2F maven Briana and our newest contributor Jenhave written about the snow removal issue that our recent weather has highlighted, as have several others. I was in full agreement with Jen and felt no need to add until I came face-to-pavement with the issue the other day. (An important thing to note at this point is that I use a wheelchair full-time.)

On December 27th I spent a few hours at Starbucks working on my thesis. The Starbucks on Columbia and 6th in New West, like most of the city, was still under the thick – and at that point, icy – blanket of snow covering roofs, walks and streets. At 3:45 my dad stopped by to ask if I needed a lift home (as my car was buried in snow on an unplowed side-street) and we agreed that since none of the stores on that block had shoveled their sidewalks (including starbucks) and snow had brought down an awning next door, I’d have to find my way to a quieter sidestreet in order to get into the car.

Dad left to get the car and I packed up and followed him a few minutes later. The store had cleared the walk (or the customers had with their feet) immediately in front of the door, not even as far as the chairs and tables reach in the summertime. I struggled to get over the initial edge of deep, slushy snow and managed to get about 2 feet in the direction I wanted, right in front of the fogged-up western window of the starbucks. I got stuck, and did my standard rock-back-and-forth trick – which also didn’t work. Nobody was in sight, and the window was too fogged up to flag someone in the store.

I took one more push to get me out of the rut and in one fell swoop, my wheels spun in the rut and my chair – through some force of momentum I have yet to investigate – flipped over. Ass over teakettle, as they say. I was really winded and lay there on my back in the snow realizing ironically that my head had landed in the only bit of sidewalk that wasn’t still covered in a cushion of slushy snow, and now I’d have a bump to show for it

I lay there for a bit, and then decided I had to find some help to get up. I swung myself over the edge of my overturned chair and sat up, trying to right my chair but getting stuck (again) in the icy slush. It figured that the only 5 minutes of the whole year in which nobody passed by that high-traffic corner was the day that I was in a heap in the snow! Just as I yelled for my dad who was emerging from the car down the street, a nice bystander about my age came out of the starbucks with her purchase and asked if I needed any help. With their help I popped myself back up into the chair and got a push out of the rut.

Normally, I’d go inside and let the staff now and ask for them to shovel immediately, but because we were off to a Christmas party, there was no time to do so. So the next day, I called the Starbucks and asked for the manager. I spoke at that point to one of the two Assistant Managers as there was no current manager at that location. The AM was polite, but unhelpful. I told her about my incident and how I hit my head on the sidewalk and asked if the snow had been removed. She acknowledged that it still wasn’t shoveled as they didn’t have anyone to do it. She apologized for the situation but made no apology to me nor an effort to make up for it or inquire as to whether I was okay.

In the end, it brought home just how important shoveling the sidewalk is – it’s not just about you, and the safety for your family. It’s about the safety of the people who traverse your little bit of the earth every day – people who, in turn, keep up their walks to keep you safe too. This little snowmageddon “golden rule” applies especially in the context of a business – what an incredibly negative message this sends when you care more about your inability to find someone to clear the (at this point, 5 day old) snow on your sidewalk than you do about the safety of your customers. It is simply not enough to say that it’s not in your job description or you physically can’t do it yourself (especially when you can pay someone to do it for you) when we are all aware of how dangerous the icy, post-snow accumulation can be. Tenancy is especially no excuse – according to the city, snow removal is the responsibility of landholders AND leaseholders.

PostScript: I have sent an e-mail to City Hall requesting that a Bylaw enforcement officer visit the Starbucks at Columbia and 6th. I encourage everyone to prompt their neighbours and shopowners to look after their sidewalk snow… and to do your part to look after your own little bit too!

Finally – a little tidbit from our friend at CityCaucus and his recent media appearance on CBC (also on CKNW radio):

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White Christmas was lovely … but enough already!

When the first fluffy flakes fell before Christmas, New Westminster was postcard-pretty and everywhere I went I could hear people humming to themselves “… where the treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow … ”

Once Snowmageddon hit in full force, it wasn’t so cute anymore.

A local blogger, Daniel from CityCaucus.com, was one of many of us who felt frustrated by the two-foot snowdrifts that remained on side streets in the days following Snowmageddon 2008:

Admittedly, even by Canadian standards we did receive a lot of snow. However, does that excuse the fact that not a single street in my whole neighbourhood was plowed five days after the snow began to fall?

I’m beginning to think that the City of New Westminster (my hometown) doesn’t even own a plow. What else would explain how the act of a simple snowfall transformed our quaint streets into something reminiscent of an end-of-the-world Hollywood film?

For heavens sake, days after the storm, there were still cars abandoned everywhere. And I mean literally everywhere. Sidewalks were impassable while back alleys were complete no-go-zones unless you owned a Hummer or a snowmobile.


I did try to venture out of my back lane once, only to get stuck there for three hours before my neighbour got home and used his truck to set my car free. When I finally did make it out of the back lane, I realized I had damaged the undercarriage of my car due to all the snow left on the streets. Did I mention New Westminster doesn’t own a snowplow?

The streets were in such poor condition that I was even forced park my car about 5 blocks away in our neighbhourhood shopping district where one main drag was at least somewhat passable.

According to the Christmas Eve edition of the Record, New Westminster had already depleted its snow removal budget before the holiday:

In January 2008, the city spent one-quarter of its snow removal budget. By last week [Dec. 19 -ed.], the budget had been depleted.


“It was a little hectic Saturday night and Sunday. We just keep plowing,” said Sheldon Rigby, acting manager of engineering operations. “We spread a bit of salt. We hope the weather changes.”

Rigby estimated the weekend’s snowfall cost the city about $55,000, which includes staff time, supplies and equipment. On Sunday, crews were clearing main routes and making progress – only to have to plow again after being hit by another dump of snow.

Once the crews have cleared commuter and emergency routes, they move onto side streets. Six vehicles have been on the roads around the clock.

“We will get into areas and side streets as time permits,” Rigby assured residents.

As I commented on Daniel’s post, I found the reaction to the first snowfall timely and appropriate, but when the real dump came our streets were also unplowed for days. We were nearly without water over Christmas (with 15 dinner guests expected!) due to a burst pipe in the basement suite – and a plumber who couldn’t get his truck down our snowy road! Later in the holiday, one of our co-authors (Jocelyn) slipped on the unshoveled street in front of the Starbucks on Columbia street and found herself flat on her back with her wheels in the air!

Despite these misadventures, we actually felt lucky that the snowfall happened over Christmas. We had nowhere pressing to go once Christmas shopping was complete, and so we remained happily housebound save for a few jaunts over to Grimston Park to take the toddler sledding. 

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Bee in my Bonnet


Hi! I’m Jen. Briana has invited me to be an occasional contributor for Tenth to the Fraser, and leave it to me to introduce myself by posting a slightly rant-errific type of post. This is re-posted from my personal blog at www.arbolog.com.

I have a bee in my bonnet about an item that only really comes to light about 2 weeks a year. Kale and I walk every day, sometimes twice a day. I usually use the carrier, because I like having my hands free. Once in a while I will use the stroller. Because it snows so infrequently here on the West Coast, I have a feeling that people feel like they have no obligations to remove the snow on the sidewalks in front of their property. In fact, I have a feeling that not all of them even own a snowshovel. 

New Westminster is rather hilly, one might say, and the neighbourhood I live in is right at the crest of the big hill and as a result, when we go out walking every day, we walk up or down a hill no matter which direction we walk in. The city is pretty good about plowing and salting the roads – as one of the oldest settlements in BC and one that is so proudly independant, I would suspect that they actually harbour a rather large fleet of winter snow removing trucks. 

But these days, being so… pedestrian, I hardly care about the roads other than Ross getting home safely. 
People: aside from moralling being obligated to foster a sense of a caring community and actually being concerned with whether or not your neighbour takes a tumble on the walk in front of your house, you are also legally obligated to do so.

Not to get all harrumph-y here but… ahem
506. A person being the owner or occupier of real property shall remove snow, ice and rubbish from any sidewalk and foot path bordering that person’s real property and from the roof and other part of a structure adjacent to or abutting on any portion of the street, not later than 10:00 a.m. of the day
after the snow, ice or rubbish is deposited thereon.

Certain neighbours of mine spend a great deal of time decorating their house for Christmas. But you think they bother to get out there and shovel the walk in front of their house? NO. So what happens? Well, the snow gets tramped down by those of us who have to or choose to walk on by.  Then it melts a little, because it’s so sunny and gorgeous out. And then at night it freezes into a sheet of glass. Never mind the fact that I’m carrying a baby and if I slip and fall I’ll likely hurt Kale, what about the seniors? I tried using the stroller but I had to give up – pushing it through the slush was even more dangerous than carrying Kale. 

I hate to get all “I’m calling the bylaw people!” but seriously, what options do I have? I considered knocking on their door and asking, but what happens if they freak out about the confrontation? People tend to get a little nutty when they realize that a) they are totally in the wrong, and b) someone is calling them on it, so do I really want to go and knock on my neighbour’s door and get sworn, yelled, or worse, swung at? Not really. 

So seriously. Be a good neighbour. Avoid getting sued. Shovel and salt your sidewalk. Those of us out walking say “Thank you”.