Apr 16, 2013

My Winnipeg Part One: The Weather and Skeeters

I now this is not music related and maybe later installments will. 
Nonetheless here is the first of "My Winnipeg"

A few years ago Guy Ritchie made a movie by that title. The horse heads and oblique imagery won some awards but I didn’t see “MY” Winnipeg there. I have lived here since 2000 and not that I would be considered a ‘pegger’ by local standards (I think you have to be born, raised and stay here or be famous and spent a short amount of time here to get that designation) I do think I can offer a perspective  of  Winnipeg, as a resident for over a decade and a perennial outsider.

The 2 things people think of when they hear the word Winnipeg.


Yes it is cold, yes winter can start before (Canadian) Thanksgiving, yes it can last till May and yes every flake of snow that lands in October is still there in March.  Hearing about it and living it are 2 very different things. At first it seems unbearable, “what have I got myself into here” kind of unbearable. But you look around and see that people aren't dropping like frozen fruit flies and you figure out quickly that survival can be done. 

When I got here I bought what I’ll call a super coat. Eddie Bauer, $600 down filled kind of ‘super’. I remember walking my dog in December and it was -17.  I had on the super coat and was still cold…now I only wear that coat when it is ‘really’ cold. I got used to it (the cold that is). At some point in winter -17 is considered a break in the weather for Winnipeg. Snow is welcome (in the actual winter) as it means it has become warm enough for snow to fall.

When I first moved here I did find welcome relief from the weather wimps I left behind in southern Ontario.  Here, in Winnipeg, the cold weather was reported in actual temperature and not any bogus “feels” like. Back in 2000 any reference to wind chill was in watts and time it takes for exposed skin to freeze.

In Winnipeg, this was important information for your survival.

Unfortunately that has changed. Now we have the temperature reported with that ‘feels like’ nonsense.
For the record wind chill is calculated based on how your body would react walking in an open field, into the wind and buck naked. Now it may seem there isn't that much to do in Winnipeg but I do not see this taking off as a hobby.

Nonetheless we now have a city where many people will say it is -40 when the wind chill overnight was severe. Of course all of these folks could be naked sleep walkers. Wind chill doesn't make your -40 antifreeze become blue ice cubes and, unless your house is drafty, wind chill doesn't increase your heating. It just affects exposed skin.

But boy it is still very different place in the way the majority of peggers deal with winter. More walk, cycle, skate, para-ski, après ski, downhill ski (and folks these are just hills), ice fish, skate, toboggan, pole walk, snowshoe and just plain do more outdoors, for more of the winter, than most Canadian cites outside of prairies. And if we get a break in the weather those that have stayed inside for the real cold will come out and join in as well.

I really think the provincial motto should be “you have to dress for it”

You will also see peggers doing outdoor stuff till the last day of the ‘good’ weather unlike Torontonians who tired of good weather back in May. Winnipegers know it is going to be bad soon and for a long time.

Now you’d think a place so well known for winter would have their collective act together when it came to snow removal. Well they don’t. Part of the problem is that we just don’t get that much snow. So after most snowfalls there isn't enough worth sending the plows out for. SO, unlike many places, we can't just pile it to the side and wait for it to melt. Sure by February it looks like a lot but that is because none of it melts. So every flake from dusting to blizzard is on the ground.  The average snow storm is quite small compared to anything in the ‘lake/ocean effect’ parts of the world. This winter Canada got a round of storms We got 10 cm and it was called a blizzard…Newfoundland got 70cm and lost power for a day.

Here the plows don’t scrape the pavement, they don’t use salt for melting or traction and residents are not required to clear the snow from the sidewalk in front of their homes. As well they clear the front of EVERY driveway.
Here is how a typical snow storm goes…
·         Snow falls. If there is enough there is plowing
·         Plowing is based on needs (main streets, schools, fire routes, etc.)
·         You shovel your front and back with the sidewalk optional
·         City plows your sidewalk
·         You shovel the piles created
·         City plows your back lane
·         You shovel the piles created
·         City plows the street where you live
·         You shovel that out

Now some of that may not seem particularly unique but what is unique is that a little snow here can cause a lot of trouble long after a snow storm in the form of blowing drifts. Unless someone complains those drifts are there to block the way (or barrel through).

Also unique is the absence of any roadway melt. So what happens is they don’t plow to the pavement, everyone packs it down driving on it, at any intersection it becomes as slick as ice due to everyone spinning out when they accelerate or skid when braking. Once in a while (and before some storms) they will throw some sand at the intersections (nowhere else) but after the first 5 cars the sand is dispersed. I have learned to drive on the snow pack outside the ruts as in the ‘real cold (-25ish) because the snow has better traction than the pavement.

I guess you have to ‘drive for it.’

On the upside they do reuse the sand (collecting it when they clean the streets in the spring)
AS I finish this section it is mid April and there is still a lot of snow on the ground and minus temps during the day.


There in no way around this, no way to couch it in lovable terms, they are here and they are unpleasant. Some years are worse than others. Peggers try to put a spin on it by saying ‘we have skeeters because we have no pollution.’ While it is true we have little air pollution (what little we have is blown east) we have mosquitoes because we have no hills. Lots of standing water = lots of mosquitoes. As an avid outdoors man I can deal with bugs (though I am Quasimodo allergic to black fly bites) and I can either put on bug dope or grin and bear it (at least when catching fish) but getting wailed on whilst walking the dog or even just taking out the trash…there is no way to spin that other than say it sucks. “Cottage country bugs in the heart of the city” is not a winning slogan.

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