Snow Wars

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

31 thoughts on “Snow Wars”

  1. Oh my gosh, I’ll never complain again when we get 2-3 feet of snow in Buffalo. I’ll think of all the snow Québecers get instead and feel blessed with 2-3 feet.

  2. Thanks for an amazing article. Yes, we should be careful of our complaining when it is dwarfed by what the Quebecers have to endure!

  3. Twelve years ago I was living in Vancouver BC. Over there, it rains during the winter. Now you might say “Thank you for the info, I’m packing my bags”, but consider the following: It rains twice as much in Vancouver than in London England. Basically, it’s like living in your shower, even if the facet is turned off you’re still in your shower.

    (I’m not trying to trash Vancouver. It’s a great city with a lot going for her, but rain is not one of ’em.)

    Quebec City has four distinct seasons and is beautiful under her winter white coat. Also, her summers are warm and sunny.

    I sweat here! I’ll take her 3 meters of snow over Vancouver’s 1 meter of rain any day.

  4. I’m currently in Sarasota, FL for the winter but Omaha where I’m from has had 36″ this winter so far (10 over average). I emailed my friends the cartoon. Just to let them know that it could be worse.


  5. There are situations everywhere. Here in Louisiana we are dealing with heavy rains everyday for the past three days. Staying inside can get a little “testy”.

  6. For many years, having grown up in Illinois (where we had some snow but in manageable quantities) and having lived my adult life in California (where we have to drive to the mountains to be in snow), I have thought of Buffalo as the snow capitol. No longer – Quebec rules! For better and for worse. Next, I’m curious about whether you have flooding when all of this snow melts.

  7. And in Beverley in East Yorkshire, England the whole town grinds to a stop if we get 2 inches of snow! Don’t wish to brag too much but at the moment we’re basking in 16 degrees C – and it’s still only the 22nd February. All the spring flowers are out and the birds certainly think that winter is over! I wonder if nature has a nasty shock waiting for us in March….?

  8. I will never moan about the snow again.
    We have had one night of snow and the next afternoon rain and then it was gone.
    Guess Surrey England are very very lucky

  9. That’s a lot of snow to look at all winter. Just read a book on New France and its explorer Champlain in the 1500’s. Can’t Imagine how they handled those winters.

  10. Thank you once again for your wonderful and descriptive words! It is great to imagine in my mind; but thankful we don’t have this enormous amount of snow!!!

  11. LOVED the cartoon!! 🙂 Northwestern Connecticut may as well be Florida when you compare our snowfalls to Quebec!! Although we get a lot of snow, much of it often melts before the next storm due to fluctuating temperatures! Won’t be complaining anytime soon when we get snow in the future!! 🙂

  12. Hi Neil.

    A famous song in Quebec says “Québec is not a country (not yet at least!), it’s Winter”. The author is Gilles Vigneault.

    Actually, like many babyboomers who grew up here in Quebec City, when we think about our childhood, most of the time our best souvenirs are related to winter and, for example, all the fun we had playing in and on the snowbanks (forts for the snowballs battles) with our numerous siblings and friends.

    And for the tourists, our white and not so cold city is currently at its best; just think about The Petit Champlain street….

      1. Hello Vicky!

        In the upper left hand corner it says: ‘Another 25 to 30 centimeters…’

        And the man shoveling the snow says: ‘Are you serious!? or ‘Are you kidding me!?

  13. Today here in New Orleans, Louisiana we had a high of about 80 degrees F. Presently,(8:20pm Central Std. time it’s 74). Average mid 70’s for February. Tomorrow potential is 84 with rain. Sunday 68 & Sunny.
    It’s like a roller coaster. We complain but I’d rather have this than 18ft of snow. Be safe.

  14. Très amusant!
    Ça résume assez bien le sentiment que nous avons en ce moment. On ne sait plus où mettre toute cette neige qui ravit les touristes. Ils aiment ça parce qu’ils repartent retrouver leur terrain de golf au bout de quelques jours.
    Tes commentaires sur l’hiver et la quantité de neige cette année démontrent que tu es devenu « québécois ».

  15. I enjoyed your story so much. Here in Philadelphia we seem to be an oasis from the snow. Barely have had any. May pay for it in March.
    Love your syories

  16. And here, in the north of Scotland, we have yet to have ANY snow and the temperature last week got up to 18 degrees ~ that’s the highest in Scotland in February since since 1890 something. And that buffoon Trump says there’s no global warming!

  17. Charlotte Perreault

    Excellent description Neil, but with this beautiful and abundant snow we also have excellent skiing conditions. I know I am one of a few but I am happy that Jacques Cartier did not go South. After spending a few winters in a warmer country, I missed so much the brightness of this season, even the storms and, most of all, the winter sports. So like Gene Kelly was singing in the rain, I am singing in the snow, I am skiing and I am happy again. So If you like skiing, sliding, skating… Quebec is the place to come and it is Zika-free.

  18. Pat Clemment Johnson

    Feb in Mora, MN is something else too. Glad we have a few acres next door to pile the 10 foot piles. Wish our little township was as modern with SNOW-REMOVAL as Quebec, haha patandbob

  19. Beautiful text, Neil….as always ! I must add that a sunny day right after a snow storm is both magical and looks like a diamond mine against the blue sky ! My daughter who now lives and works in the South of France misses this season more than any other one, which confirms Denis Laberge’s souvenirs of childhood ! Merci Neil.

  20. Right now, it doesn’t matter where you live. It’s a big problem. The cartoon isn’t even exagerated. I could share a real picture that looks the same.

  21. Millicent Broderick

    I lived thirty three years Montréal and really miss the beauty of the Quebec winter. It had its challenges for sure but there is nothing like the stillness of a night time snowfall or a sunny ski hill. My boots, which used to be a mainstay of Québec winter life, have been worn twice this year in New York City wherei now live. When I moved to the States I left our trusty shovel propped against the outside wall of my empty house. A practical gift to the new tenants.

  22. Neil, I live across from your Mom and Dad in St Paul MN. St. Paul MN has set a record this February for snowfall. St. Paul, MN mayor and city council need to study your parking plan for snow removal. I think we have a bit to learn about efficient snow removal. I think great snow falls are wonderful!

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