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Tales from the Dump: Want better snow clearing in town? Grab a shovel


Decades ago, I watched a documentary whose images have stuck with me all these years.

The film was taken in a small city somewhere in Asia. Periodically in the winter it would get the occasional snowfall and one happened to occur while the film crew was visiting, so they filmed it. The town had no snow removal mechanized equipment so the morning after the snowfall, they were surprised to see every able-bodied man, woman and child went out with brooms and shovels and cleaned the town of snow themselves.

They would clear the roads, the sidewalks, the parking spots, the trails and paths. They would keep at it for hours or even days until the town was cleared. It was considered part of the residents’ civic duty to the town, and it meant the town didn’t have to tax people for snow removal. The people turned the snow removal into a sort of holiday, party, civic pride thing. People certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves as they shovelled out the town. The snow was put into wheelbarrows and dumped into a small river that flowed through town.

So, just imagine if we did this in Yellowknife or any Canadian community, for that matter. The city would save a lot of money on mechanized equipment and fuel. They could give everyone in town a shovel, broom and wheelbarrows. Then when it snowed, every able-bodied person in town could go outside and enjoy the day shovelling. This would put an end to all the people complaining about the city not doing a good snow removal job, because it would no longer be the city’s responsibility, it would be the people’s job. So, if you want to live in the city, you would be expected to do your civic job and get out there removing snow.

I don’t know how they managed to get everyone involved or what would have happened if a resident refused to help. Peer pressure, I am sure, played a part. Maybe if the person refused, they were just quietly taken to the edge of town and told to go live someplace else. The documentary didn’t get into those details but in the film, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Different societies and cultures handle things differently.

In Canada, when a big snow falls lands it’s predictable that some people will go driving out into it for a little fun and adventure. Some will get stuck or have accidents. They should publish an accident tally and how much all the accidents are going to cost insurance companies and individuals. There should be records kept so things can be made safer and more efficient. Also, maybe a few fines should be levied for those people just driving around to see the chaos, confusion and the accidents, especially if they are filming it all for the internet.

Also, how soon after the snowfalls before people start to complain. I have no idea how many kilometers of roads, sidewalks and parking lots need to be cleared but it takes a while. People could haul the snow to the city park and try to create the world’s tallest snow person. The record to beat was a snowman named Riesi built in 2020 in Donnersbachwald, Austria. It was 38.04 metres tall. I am sure we can do better than that with all the snow we have, and it just keeps coming.

Also, I think anyone in Canada who wants to become a city planner should spend a winter driving a snow plow, so they learn how to plan our cities better for the inevitable snowfalls, followed by snow removal. It’s not the snow causing all the accidents but people trying to drive too fast in it. So maybe we need a rule that the speed limits automatically drop by 10 kilometres as soon as it starts snowing and stay that way until all the snow is removed.