Frances Bula header image 2

The snow keeps falling … and I’m going on strike

January 3rd, 2009 · 14 Comments

Okay, it’s Saturday morning, we’re at Day 22 of snow in Vancouver, it’s snowing again and I’ve definitely had it. (The record, btw, is 33 days in 64/65. Our first snowfall landed Dec. 13.)

I like snow and I’m not a complainer. (The last few weeks have brought home to me, once again, the reality that some people are in a state of perpetual outrage and others are not — and that I’m in category 2.) So I’m not one of those people who has rushed to trash various government agencies for not shovelling my steps, not making the snow disappear, not ploughing my Siberia-like side street (I can’t see how they could even get a plough in, honestly) or whatever. But this is definitely starting to be not fun.

Besides the fact that our backyard is slowly filling up with bags of uncollected garbage and recycling, I’ve noticed in the last few days that my knees hurt and I’ve got various pulled muscles, the kind of feeling I usually get when Ive been cross-country skiing for a couple of hours. I finally realized that’s the result of constantly walking around on piles of snow or on ice-covered sidewalks, where every step requires that you brace yourself to start sliding or skating.

If that’s how I, a relatively young and healthy person feels, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be 70 or 80 and trying to get out for enough groceries to stay alive. I personally am at the point where I feel like going on strike, refusing to leave the house until the snow melts. We’ve got a tonne of stuff in the cupboards, various weird cans of things I’ve bought over the years that are now just taking up a lot of space, not to mention my somewhat stale Christmas baking and a giant clamshell of grapes I got at Costco yesterday, so we could probably survive here for at least a couple of weeks. By then, surely, the rain will come.

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  • Wayne

    I’m not in a state of outrage, far from it. If people would do the right thing by shovelling their walks and keeping them ice-free I’d prefer a winter of this to a winter of cold, gray, wet.

    Taking walk is a real work out and not a little nerve wracking even for me. I think we have really let down those with mobility issues.

  • Denis

    What a great way to start the new year! Nobody wants a city in BC that only sees more than a inch or so at one time, go out and buy more equipment which may get used once or twice every few years. But you are right Francis. Walking around does get some muscles working that don’t like it either. You are very right as well about the older set who simply can’t get out as the danger of falling is serious. Handy Dart , and folks like Meals on Wheels have to reduce their services. But lest face it, a lot of folks don’t bother to shovel off their sidewalks. Lots of cars on side streets make for a much longer time to clear with the plows. Lots of things seem to make matters worse. If the Vancouver folks are whining, try Victoria. The snow is gone there was no floodings and some clowns were out golfing yesterday. The local media kept offering massive snow storms that somehow never showed up. Next it was massive flooding, again not much of that. Folks like to bitch, as both of us do now and again. All will be forgotten in a week or so.
    To serious matters. What do you think about Coleman’s idea of dragging folks off the street if it gets cold? How cold? Well he doesn’t seem to know, and where would they go? Doesn’t know that either. should be an excellent blog article.

  • julia

    My Mom is 90 and while we could shovel her sidewalk, there was nothing we could do to safely get her through the snow ruts and into a car. Her Christmas and New Years were pretty much a write off unless we wanted to risk life altering broken hips or arms. Simply not worth it.

    But, she jokes today that she has bread and milk (thanks to noble #1 son) and nobody will see that her hair is not done and if her meals are getting a little strange… well it still looks so pretty outside her kitchen window and the kids sliding down the Sunset hill are so cute.

  • One of my related concerns is the number of condominium projects around the city where the owners/manager/property manager have not bothered to shovel the snow in front of the building. (eg one of my own developments on Oak Street between 42 and 43.) My concern is not just the icy sidewalk; it’s the poor attitude being exhibited towards property maintenance and management.

    I suspect that many of the projects where the snow has not been shoveled are also projects where the flashings are not being maintained; the drains are not being cleaned out; and other important repairs are not being properly carried out.

    As if there isn’t enough misery in the city, I am saddened to report that there is a looming crisis in our city that could ultimately rival the leaky condo problems…. it is the significant number of aging condominium projects that need essential repairs, and yet the governing strata corporations do not have adequate replacement reserve funds to carry them out.

    I hate to think of the full ramifications of this situation. So, if you are thinking of buying a condominium in the coming months, check out whether the owners/managers cared enough to shovel the sidewalks. If they didn’t, DON’T BUY THERE!

    And if you live in a condominium, make it a new year’s resolution to find out if you are putting sufficient money away each year to pay for essential repairs over time. Unlike Ontario and some other provinces, there is no legal requirement in BC to maintain an adequate reserve. You may want to start this year, when you approve your new operating budget. And yes, you may also want to budget for next year’s snow clearing. Just in case!

  • Wagamuffin


    I too fall into Category number 2. But that just may be the masochist in me…love the snow. The ice, not so much.

    Still, walking downhill to Safeway at 9:30pm last night was enjoyable. Deep breaths of clean, cold air (why does snow smell so good?), and then challenging myself to see if I could still run and slide along the ice. A quick glance over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching, just in case I land on my arse, and then away I go. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Yup. Still got it.

    Get the provisions from Safeway. The usual, as well some celebratory cans of smoked oysters, whipping cream, and decent chocolate.

    Since many seem to think we are at the ‘End Of Days’ in this weather , I thought at least I should be prepared to go out in style.

    Re: your muscle pulls and aching joints. Uneven terrain like we are experiencing right now works just like a Bosu ball: it makes you use your muscles and balance in ways you normally don’t. 20 inches of snow in Vancouver means a full body workout (market THAT, Mr. Zalko). Cancel that gym membership, kids.

    It is hard on older people and the access issues are very real. If you live in a condo, now is a good time to meet the neighbors and see if you can lend a hand.

    And speaking of such things: Three cheers to those who exhibit what we used to quaintly call “good citizenship ” , by shovelling their own and others sidewalks, assisting passengers on and off transit and generally being menschs (look it up).

    A big raspberry to those who only bitch, complain, caterwaul and don’t lift a finger or lend a hand. Neighbourliness starts with each of us, on our own streets.

    Go knock on a neighbors door and ask if you can help–I dare you!

  • Wagamuffin

    Hey Frances,

    Stop drinking that spiked nog. I don’t think the math is quite right.

    Dec 13 to Jan 3 is 22 days…I think.

  • T W

    We should be grateful to Michael Geller for pointing out that inability to clear snow in front of a condominium is a red flag pointing towards other deficiencies.

  • fbula


    Thanks for the correction. But it’s not spiked nog, it’s the chocolate addling my brain.

  • eurosolutions

    Maybe it’s time to be like Bologna, Italy (it does snow there)
    and mandate street colonnades, arcades that block the snow
    and rain from the streets. See Lee Building at Main and Broadway
    for example.
    Quickly, (the way they tear down commercial buildings) the city
    would have walkable sidewalks whatever the weather.
    Doesn’t anyone bless the Bay’s awning along Georgia, Seymour
    and Granville?

    And eventually we can’t ‘push’ the snow off the street but will
    have to take it away and dump it. Where? And how many salty oil
    chemicals are in the mix as we destroy more rivers and bays?
    Seattle P- noted that their city
    ..”What they haven’t used is rock salt, a good but some say
    environmentally unfriendly way to clear the roads of snow and ice.
    In the mid-1990s, the city decided not to use the more corrosive salt,
    and instead it uses GeoMelt C, a liquid blend of calcium chloride in a
    soy base. The de-icer is thought to be gentler on the environment and
    considered better for the Puget Sound waterway, where eventually much
    of it will end up.”

    And water, cheese whey and molasses as a better de-icing mix
    from the Fraser Valley.
    Linkname: Road crews pit chemistry against ice

  • Wagamuffin

    Seratonin rush! Seratonin rush!

    Chocolate is a stimulant, so maybe you were just ahead of the curve??

  • LP

    A re-post from Francis’ other post of Mr. Geller’s comment:

    Although I’d classify myself as a Geller supporter, I have to say I take issue with the uninformed position he takes in his email to you Francis.

    To suggest a building that doesn’t shovel their walks may have hidden problems, so therefore don’t buy there, seems to be made out of frustration rather than thoughtful consideration.

    First off he is correct in stating that the province does not require a minimum reserve fund to be in place. They do however require 10% of the strata’s yearly operating budget be deposited into a contingency fund. As a side note, under the previous NDP government, this was 5% and changed under the first elected Liberal government. That’s not a pro-Campbell statement, just a point that it has been increased.

    Anyone who is shopping to buy a condo should complete their due diligence by at a minimum a) reading at least 2 years of minutes, b) examining operating budgets from previous years, as well as the current year for any anomalies, specifically ledger items that are either over spent or unused, as well as what the operating budget contains by item, c) careful consideration of the contingency fund with age of the building, upcoming potential repairs based on age of the building etc…, and d) hire a building/home inspector that does more than come in and check the faucets and outlets throughout the property.

    In the case of a contingency, it is true that some of this could be used for snow removal, however a more fiscally responsible council would opt to pay for snow removal through their annual operating budget, and if at the end of their fiscal year, had the building ran a deficit, which is required by law to be paid and not carried over, the ownership at their AGM would have the option of paying the overage through a levy, or taking the money from their contingency fund.

    For a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars, considering this amount is split among owners, a levy is usually what is decided as prudent.

    Immediate snow removal and contingency reserve funds have no direct correlation, just as snow removal and the quality of the building’s maintenance do not.

    As an example, the condo I live in (I was President and/or Treasurer for 6 years), hires a firm to evaluate the entire building every year. This evaluation is then used to complete repairs to the buildings exterior. Both the report and subsequent yearly repairs are done religiously. The building is in amazing shape and is known as a great place to purchase based on council’s diligence.

    Also of note is a 50 year maintenance plan that includes every aspect of the building that we had our property manager prepare for owners and council to know when both repairs and levies would be required to carry out the work. Future owners can see what year work (such as boiler replacement for example) should be carried out and if something is missed can then raise their concern.

    This past year, the present council, which I am not part of, decided to cancel the snow removal contract we’ve had in place for about 10 years now. Why? Because when doing a service versus cost comparison it made no sense to continue, so they opted to go with an on-call basis for snow removal.

    When the snow started to fall and it was obvious that more was coming than in past years they tried to secure this on-call service through our property management company. Unfortunately all of their contacts were swamped with work, and none were available.

    So about 5 people went out on their own accord and shoveled as they deemed necessary. The areas shoveled were common areas, and areas of most use. What was not shoveled was the front sidewalk as most of us don’t use it. From the street view, we would have been a derelict building in Mr. Geller’s eyes.

    After the fact, the council was made aware of the city bylaw with regards to snow removal of multiple family dwellings. They are now adjusting their policy and actions to ensure the snow is better addressed in the future.

    Further, for anyone with issues surrounding strata developments in the lower mainland, they can call CHOA, the Condominium Home Owners Association for information, advice, and/or membership.

    For Mr. Geller to spout off as he did without more information was completely off-base. Our building may be overly diligent when compared to others, however to link snow removal with a lack of other maintenance, and subsequently to whether to buy or not to buy is just plain old wrong.

  • Wagamuffin


    That was an excellent explanation. I too wasn’t quite following Michael’s logic, but this level of detail is very much appreciated.

    Your past strata council sounds very capable as does the management firm you chose to work with. Oh, that they were all like that.

    Perhaps that is a regulatory (or a business?) idea to be considered and followed up on : Vet and elect strata council members with credentials, skill sets and business knowledge to get the job done. If the owners don’t have them, hire management firms that are recognized for implementing ‘best practices’.

    Unfortunately, I think many owners can be penny-wise and pound foolish when it comes to not socking away funds for those rainy (or should I say snowy?) days. Nobody likes a levy, but it is often the prudent thing to do to guarantee the sustainability and long term optimal performance of a building.

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  • LP


    Interesting name, I’m new here so I don’t quite get it, but hey lots goes over my head….

    The BC Liberals amended the Strata Property Act after they took office in 2001, adding legislation to make it more effective than it was prior.

    In addition to increasing the contingency fund requirement from 5-10%, they also required property management firms to become licensed, which was not previously required.

    Are there still shitty PM firms out there? Probably, however that has mostly to do with the workload they dump on the actual people managing those buildings. A management firm is like a building inspector, they need to be interviewed, come with referrals, and have their credentials checked before they are hired. That would save owners and councils a whole mess of trouble.

    I’m not suggesting there isn’t more to do, with regards to better legislation, however being on a strata council I’ve seen first hand the apathy and ‘rental apartment’ mentality from all owners, not just investor/absentee owners.

    Mr. Geller was advocating legislation to mandate a minimum amount of funds in a contingency fund. Somehow he linked snow removal to not having efficient funds in place, and a potential disaster down the road because then obviously buildings would fall into crisis again, re the leaky condo saga.

    From my 10 years of experience both living in condos, and 6 years of being either a president or treasurer, the problems in most buildings simply boils down to owners passing the buck.

    Why wasn’t a building maintained? Why is the flashing not kept up? Why wasn’t the flat roof inspected regularly?

    Blaming the lack of money in a contingency fund for lack of repairs is an excuse, not a logical or acceptable reason.

    The majority of people do not go to their strata council meetings (6x per year), nor to the 1x per year AGM. Most people just expect the building to be managed by the PM firm, but few including those on councils, fully understand the contract in place between a strata and PM firm.

    Lots of stuff here can go wrong, but trying to legislate people to prevent them from costing themselves money is futile. If there is a concern that a future buyer then is stuck with a problem, then one has to also ask, did they properly evaluate the building before buying.

    Lastly, vetting strata council candidates sounds nice but isn’t even that thorough in civic/prov/fed politics.

    When nominating yourself at the AGM for a council position, the only time credentials come into play is when there are more people running for seats, than what council holds. I would venture to say that most buildings have trouble obtaining a full-council.

    Sorry but no one should expect me or anyone else to feel sorry for, or support government bailout money, to buildings that fall into extreme disrepair, that don’t even have enough of their owners volunteering for council on a regular basis.

    Nobody, I repeat nobody, needs to have any special training, or be that intelligent to ask questions, read, and learn about what is best for the home/condo/building you live in. No legislation will do that.