The Hierarchy of Snow

When it comes to winter, Canadians get a little bit strange.  We take pride in our winteriness.  We collect scarves, tuques, and pairs of mittens.  We brag about cycling in the snow.  Two-inch snowfalls prompt middle-aged women to haul out their cross-country skis and use them to commute to work.  The more snow there is, the more we rejoice.

This attitude tends to lead to what you might call a “hierarchy of snow,” which we may notice only when we leave one place in Canada for another place in Canada.  We get very…regional…about our snow.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; the snow, on the other hand, is always less impressive.  When it comes to winter weather, Canadians shed their stereotypical politeness for outright bragging.

I grew up in Vancouver, which is automatically at the bottom of the hierarchy.  Vancouverites don’t think of their snow as being less, well, snowy than everyone else’s, but living in Toronto has taught me that the rest of the country views Vancouver’s snow with amused contempt.  Everyone who doesn’t live in Vancouver believes that Vancouverites are completely unable to cope with snow.  The story runs as follows:  in Vancouver, it rains for 364 days of the year.  On the 365th, it snows, and the city shuts down because no one in Vancouver is capable of dealing with frozen water falling from the sky.  Vancouverites can’t drive in the snow.  Vancouverites think that an inch of snow is the worst thing ever.  How funny and silly those Vancouverites are!

Of course, the truth is that Vancouver, while quite temperate, does sometimes get a substantial amount of snow.  Vancouverites, who live their lives surrounded by quite tall mountains on which the snow accumulates to a degree that would utterly alarm someone from Toronto, are as capable of driving in the snow as anyone, though they are sometimes defeated by Vancouver’s steep hills.  A Vancouverite’s knowledge of snow acts somewhat like a secret superpower.  Though I hail from the city at the bottom of the hierarchy, I grew up cross-country skiing and snowshoing, and I knew what a tree well was and why it was a bad idea to fall into one by the time I was eight.

Currently, I live in Toronto.  Toronto sees itself as well up in the hierarchy, and consequently, many Torontonians are shocked to learn that the rest of the country regards it as well down in the hierarchy.  Former mayor Mel Lastman didn’t help this general impression by calling in the army during Toronto’s 1999 blizzard.  Only about a week ago, I saw an online comment from a Torontonian who indignantly complained about mockery of Lastman’s decision, even though, in the commenter’s words, Toronto had sustained a “90 cm.” snowfall at the time.  In actual fact, the snowfall was probably no more than about 40 cm., or a foot and a third.  There have been some snowy Toronto winters, but total accumulation rarely goes beyond a foot and a half.  And yes, other Canadians think that Toronto shuts down under such conditions.  As Vancouver is to Toronto, so is Toronto to everybody else, though Torontonians, unlike Vancouverites, often lack mountain-related experience.

I spent Christmas in Prince George this year.  Prince George is in northern British Columbia, and it gets quite a lot of snow.  In fact, when I was there, I never really saw actual pavement, as Prince George sands its roads rather than salting them.  In Prince George, snow tires are a necessity, not a luxury.  Vancouver and Toronto are both full of wimps as far as the people of Prince George are concerned.  Even though I was there for only a week and a half, I find myself inclined to snicker smugly at Toronto’s comparatively teeny snowfalls and balmy temperatures.  The hierarchy of snow sets in quickly.

There are doubtless places further north that regard Prince Georgians as soft.  That’s how it goes in Canada:  everyone’s snow is better than everyone else’s snow.  Just about the only thing everyone agrees about is that even Vancouver is hardier than most of the United States.  And that’s pretty Canadian too.


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