What kind of winter wimps are we?

Published in The Sault Star Dec. 22, 2021

Hey, Algoma, let’s turn this sled around.

Because it seems to me we’re in danger of becoming winter wimps.

Ever since the first flakes fell this season too many of us have been quaking, and not from the cold.

Are we really that afraid of a little snow and wind? Or even of a whole bunch of snow and gusty winds and prolonged whiteouts?

Say it ain’t so.

But I’m afraid it might be.

Recently the City of Sault Ste. Marie declared a “Significant Weather Event,” which remained in effect from Dec. 3 to 7.

The reason? Environment Canada had issued weather advisories about the possibility of heavy snowfall, freezing rain, strong winds and reduced visibility.

The city said works crews would try to clear roads, sidewalks and bus stops but it “may take longer than normal.”

In other words, business as usual in typical early-December weather.

Since then the Sault has issued similar warnings a couple of times. Yet from what I’ve seen when venturing into the metropolis, city works has ridden every storm wave like a veteran snowboarder on a hill of moguls. 

They even found time to dump frozen slush or ice chunks in front of the driveways of older or infirm citizens, fulfilling what seems to be their mandate.

Meanwhile, for lack of plows, Environment Canada has been dumping warnings and watches on the citizenry.

During that early-December event, by my reckoning it predicted total snowfall of 55 to 95 centimetres (22 to 37 inches). Other forecasters on both sides of the border were in the same ballpark.

What actually fell on the Sault? Less than 34 centimetres (about 13 inches) according to, yes, Environment Canada.

So even if you hadn’t shovelled your driveway during those four days you could still wade out to your half-ton in your snowmobile boots without getting a single flake on your pant legs. Or bare knees, if you’re one of those who sports shorts in all seasons.

Big flaking deal, in other words.

And suppose those projected 95 centimetres (about 37 inches) actually had fallen over three or four days: would it be a climate catastrophe? Most of us have lived through that amount in just a single day and have the tall tales to prove it.

I’m not sure what sounding such alarms is supposed to accomplish. But if officialdom is going to treat every occurrence of typical winter weather as a potential natural disaster, it’s going to be a long and traumatic season for Saultites.

And is Environment Canada going to issue intense sunlight warnings every time we go a couple of days without rain this summer? Will the city urge us to avoid unnecessary travel because it’s pothole or line-painting season?

I had hoped this winter’s chionophobia (intense fear of snow) wouldn’t extend any farther north than the plow turnaround at city limits.

But social media tells me a contagion of cowardice has spilled into the unorganized townships that I call home.

Lately a Goulais River page on Facebook has featured an avalanche of whining about a smattering of snowflakes on too-slowly-plowed rural roads and warnings about treacherous highway conditions.

Don’t drive into the Sault, for god’s sake, because there’s a whiteout and the roads are glare ice! The highway is closed (even if it’s really open)!

A few posters call bull, saying they cruised home in the usual time with no traction or visibility issues, even posting photos of clear pavement. I suspect they are viewed as delusional. 

But seriously, even if it had been snowmaggedon out there, you guys are Goulaigans.

Don’t Goulaigans dismiss the worst nature can throw at them with a contemptuous laugh, declaring like the knight in a Monty Python movie that it’s only a flesh wound?

Someone once told me you’re not really from Sault North until you’ve slid down Mile Hill, unable to see past your wipers, hoping to come to rest against a moose or jackknifed transport so you won’t disappear into the blueberry flats.

But it seems a great many in the Sault and environs are obsessed with and afraid of winter weather and determined to avoid it.

When I came to the Sault a scant 41 years ago — yes, I still can’t call myself a local — I was impressed with how people either ignored or embraced winter storms.

They would pack up the wife and tiny tots on sleds held together with duct tape and optimism, travelling way back into the bush to frozen camps with styrofoam toilet seats in the outhouses.

At weekend’s end they’d use a pan of hot coals to thaw out the engine, maybe pour some gas in the pistons and dislocate a shoulder starting up the 250 ccs that was their only hope of getting home, perhaps after freezing their fingers replacing a broken belt.

How many of us have followed a pair of taillights from Parry Sound to Echo Bay, hoping the transport driver has a better view through the whiteout than you do?

Or snuck around a road-closure barricade to get home?

Or pushed and towed and shovelled and come-alonged hundreds of cars and trucks to disinter them from snowy graves.

Or taken a shovel to the top of snowbanks so you’d have somewhere to put what you needed to clear off the driveway.

Even I, who grew up in the south, have waded through waist-high snow a kilometre or so to my camp, weighed down by enough beer to make it worth the effort. Once I had to carry a dying dog through freezing drizzle out to where my truck had bogged down on the slushy camp road.

I’ve plowed my way to work (drivers on Great Northern Road thanked me), then plowed my way out of the Sault Star parking lot through a couple of feet of new snow at the end of my night shift.

A few more years of those sorts of adventures and I might be deemed worthy to call myself a northerner, albeit a very old one.

So, Algoma, put the city’s significant weather events where the sun don’t shine.

White out the weather services’ forecasts of imminent disaster. 

Stop whimpering on social media.

Enjoy winter while you can. Because it’ll be here for only about eight months.

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