The Hongcouver

Get a grip: Vancouver finds out what it’s like to live in Canada, as ice and snow cover city streets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 6:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 11:25pm

This winter, Vancouverites are getting a taste of what it’s like to actually live in Canada. And honestly, we’re not coping very well at all.

Weekly snowfalls over the past month, coupled with uncommonly low temperatures in between have turned many of the city’s streets - including mine - into ice rinks. The glassy sidewalks are no better. Unsteady pedestrians shuffle along, limbs akimbo and backsides thrust out like haemorrhoidal penguins.

We’re baffled by the cold reality underfoot.

Because the Canadian winter never really reaches Vancouver, right?

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Well, there’s a frostbite warning for the nearby Fraser Valley, with windchills down to -20 Celsius. There’s almost three metres of snow on the mountains that overlook the city. And in Metro Vancouver itself, temperatures are struggling to get above zero, compared to the seasonal average of plus 6C.

There is a tendency under such circumstances to overcompensate.

To whit: my wife and I went down to the local outdoor shop on Monday. To buy crampons.

Don’t laugh. Cambie Street may not be the north face of the Eiger, but that stroll to Whole Foods is starting to represent a definite threat to limb, if not life. No amount of kale is worth that.

We find Hillsound Equipment on Broadway doing a roaring trade.

The assistant sizes us up in a second: without us asking, she points to the near-bare rack of over-shoe crampons. How many have you sold, I ask her colleague? “Hundreds and hundreds.”

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Walking the hillier side streets of Vancouver may be perilous, but as for driving them? Forget about it.

We exit Hillsound with a Vancouver PD cop - a fellow crampon shopper. Then we all watch in horror as a VW Golf driver mounts a futile assault on a particularly glacial section of Manitoba Street. Tyres spinning, the Golf is quickly diagonal; if he gets traction now he’ll be mounting us. I let out a breath of relief as he throws the car into reverse and rolls backwards across six lanes of Broadway instead. Thankfully, there’s no one behind him.

“That car was full of kids,” says the cop, with a little whistle.

The ten-minute walk home is like a pitiful version of Ice Road Truckers. A Volvo skids five metres through a stop sign. A campervan driver attempting to simply pull out of a parking spot on West 14th finds his rear wheels stuck on a 5cm ice ridge, while his front wheels spin impotently. He gives up and rolls back into place, presumably until Spring.

The driver of the soft-top Jeep Wrangler should really fare better. But, gunning it as he pulls out of his parking bay, he discovers the limitations of four-wheel drive when all of them are spinning in place. The Jeep’s back end lurches out diagonally before he semi-recovers – then he spoils it all by ending up diagonal again in the opposite direction.

CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said not to expect a thaw in the immediate future. It’s another cold and icy week, before more snow (rain if we’re lucky!) arrives Friday. “The pattern continues,” she told me on Twitter.

The official Environment Canada forecast has temperatures in Vancouver maxing out this week at 0 until Friday, down to - 7C with a windchill of -14C.

We Vancouverites love to complain, but there’s often an element of humblebragging to our favourite subjects. When homeowners moan about the size of our property tax bill, implicit is the ludicrous valuation of our homes. When we self-flagellate for being unable to drive on snow and ice, we’re taking a little crack at the rest of Canada – hey, we don’t usually get winter over here, so can you blame us?

So, for a little perspective, consider the week ahead in Toronto (down to -15C), Ottawa (-24C), Montreal (-22C), or, God forbid, Winnipeg (-28C with a MAXIMUM of -18C).

Sure, it’s cold this winter in Vancouver. But maybe we just need to get a grip.


The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.