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Operation Snow Removal: Montréal Edition 

Published March 22, 2011 at 5:52 p.m.

On a recent trip to Montréal, I was reminded of some of the many reasons our neighbors to the north are far supérieur to our sorry selves here in Canada Minor. For one, they know their way around a pastry like nobody's biz. I could eat my way through the city's many boulangeries and die happy, not to mention 800 pounds overweight. 

For two, they know how to get rid of snow. And not the way we get rid of snow here — by pushing it into some guy's driveway. They literally pick up the snow using special Québecois snow fairies and take it to some secret lair where little hobbits filter out the dog pee and cigarette butts and brew it into delicious alcoholic beverages.

But really, the Montréal snow-removal machine is a thing of beauty, and something to see if you ever get the chance. The city is world famous for this winter ritual. About five times a year, depending on the snowfall, each of the city's 19 boroughs conduct massive, days-long snow-removal operations involving 2200 vehicles and 3000 city personnel. The snow doesn't just get plowed there — it gets picked up and carted away so that it looks as if it never snows there at all.

To see photos of this spectacle, check out the "Montréal Snow Removal" Flickr results here.

According to the Ville de Montréal website, the highly orchestrated snow removal requires snow blowers, graders, sidewalk tractors, front-end loaders, pickup trucks and snow-dump trucks, which are basically 18-wheelers with open trailers. Yes, that's a lot of fossil fuel devoted to clearing the way for cars, but it's also making way for bus traffic and those insane year-round cyclists. So, it's only partially objectionable for carbon crusaders.

Here's roughly how it works: After a large snowfall, say, around 20 centimeters, or 7 to 8 inches, the city brings out the big guns. Large riding snow blowers with monster, snorkle-like attachments are deployed to the streets and sidewalks. An armada of semis drives next to the blowers, which shoot snow into the trucks' trailers. They're all moving at a snail's place to get every last flake of snow off the ground. Then the snow is hauled to one of 29 disposal sites around the city. Those dumping grounds include 12 snow dumps, 16 sewer chutes and one quarry. From there, the snow is treated and put into the river. 

On average, the city removes between 13 and 13.5 cubic meters of snow, or 17 to 17.6 million cubic yards, for you not on the metric system. That's 375,000 truckloads, or, as that measures out in U.S. terms, a fucking shit-ton. If you lined up 375,000 trucks full of snow (and trash and dog poop), they would stretch more than 4000 miles, or roughly the distance between Vermont and Anchorage, AK.

Here in Burlington, we definitely don't do anything close to such epic snow removal. First off, we're tiny. Montréal is nine times the size, by area, of our little burg. Secondly, our city's population is roughly equivalent to Anjou, one of Montréal's smallest boroughs. Are all these facts and figures blowing your mind? Just sit tight, because there's more where they came from.

Just for fun, here's a little side-by-side comparison of our deux villes:   

  Montreal Burlington
Population 1.6 mil. 42,417
Area (in square miles) 141 15.5
Miles of road 2547 90
Miles of sidewalk 4069 150
Snow disposal sites 29 1
Employees needed per storm 200-3000~ 14-50+
Vehicles including sidewalk
plows and plow trucks
2200 28
Tons of salt used 137,000 3604
Cars towed during parking bans 25,000 959
Average annual snowfall 86 inches 80 inches
Total annual snowfighting budget $146 mil. $789,000


The point of this comparison is only to show how much awesomer the Canadians are than us. It's completely unfair to hold our snow-removal system up to theirs — like comparing apples to beef Wellington. But it's nice to dream about a day when 8-foot walls of snow don't prevent me from leaving my house for a week. And it's nice to dream about a day when all of Burlington's neighborhoods are cleared of snow with the same frequency and sense of urgency. (Yes, Burlington DPW, I'm talking about the Old North End. The sidewalks in my neighborhood were never once cleared after the last snowstorm, which was only the biggest March snow event on record.)

So, until enough cash drops in Burlington's lap to fund a multimillion-dollar snow-eradication program, I guess we'll just have to be happy with our current system for dealing with the white (now gray) stuff: spring.

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Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2011.

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