Québec City gets an average of 303.4 centimeters of snow every year. For those of you who think in feet and inches, that’s just a hair shy of 10 feet of snow. That’s a lot of snow. In 2008, a year that Québecers speak of with awe and anguish, Mother Nature provided 558 centimeters – over 18 feet – of winter whiteness. Look at any ranking of the world’s snowiest cities. Québec City features in all of them.
On isolated roads and in spacious suburban neighborhoods, city plows push the snow to either side of the road. There is plenty of room in the ditches and the yards to accommodate the snow that would otherwise block the roadway. Although the ridges of snow that form along the curbs can attain the height of the houses themselves, space is not usually an issue. A season’s worth of snow will sit there quietly until it melts in late spring.
In the more densely populated urban neighborhoods, however, it is an entirely different story. There is simply not enough room for all the snow. Here, when the amount of snow on the roadways hits a critical mass, the streets are closed to parking, and overnight an impressive parade of industrial equipment passes through the streets to take away the snow. First come the sidewalk bulldozers. Then, gargantuan graders direct the snow toward the middle of the street, where noisy snowblowers suck up the snow and deposit it into 18-wheel trucks traveling just behind. Once full, the trucks head off to distant snow dumps. This symphony of heavy machinery is the lullaby to which Québecers fall asleep after every winter storm.
But that is only the public battle, the battle waged by the city against the snow that falls on the municipal right-of-way. Every Québecer wages a war of his or her own, a war for space in which every square meter is contested. In November and December, all is quiet on the front lawn; snow from the sidewalk and the driveway is easily contained by the few feet of sod available to city dwellers. But by mid-February, the path leading to the front door is a canyon with shear white walls. As you throw the snow to the top of the canyon, it falls back onto the sidewalk or, worse yet, onto your neighbor’s sidewalk. And at that point, winter has won.
We have arrived at that point in this winter of 2019. As I write these words, Québecers have run out of space, and the snow is falling again. Sidewalks are as narrow as ever and neighbors are grumbling at each other. When will spring finally arrive? When will the war end?
Cartoon courtesy of Ygreck