This winter I’ve been incredibly perceptive of Montreal’s incredible snow removal capabilities. As soon as there is a dumping of snow, armies of trucks of a myriad of shapes and sizes immediately unleash themselves onto the street, prowling every block until the snow is sufficiently dealt with.

There is a certain order to the way the removal teams approach the snow. First, a regular plow clears paths through the streets, two paths for two lane streets and so on. By doing this, however, a very large ridge is made that divides the street, making crossing it very dangerous. A second team deals with this: the first vehicle shoots the snow on the street into a humongous truck, who then eventually dumps the snow into the St Lawrence river (the environmental aspects of this are pretty questionable, I bet).

This is followed by an additional team, who artfully plow the remainder of the snow, and clear paths on the sidewalks. Normally, large banks are left on the side of the road, cutting the sidewalk off from the street. Here, the natural path phenomenon emerges in one of it’s most excellent and least predictable states: random paths between the road and the sidewalk, that some brave souls had the initiative to first establish.

Every now and then, however, Montreal’s snow removal crews annihilate these snow barriers that emerge between the street and the sidewalk. It’s always amazing to walk on the streets once this has been done – one feels liberated! Again able to cross the street at one’s own whim.

My roommate, Zoe, returned from Southern Ontario yesterday, confusedly reporting that there was much more snow in London and Toronto than in Montreal. Montreal is notorious for being a much snowier city, explaining her surprise.

I owe this to Montreal’s excellent snow removal service. It’s incredible how modern technologies have been applied to overcoming the harsh weather in this city ( – I often comment on how odd, and brilliant it is that people carry out their business despite these never-ending arctic storms). This city is too good at snow removal to just leave the snow on the street.

But then my thoughts wandered. What if Montreal did leave the snow on the street? There would surely be enormous snow banks on every street corner – piles of snow that would act as structures characterizing a streetscape for an entire season – mountains of snow that would impede vision at every distance – places where people would break through the snow banks and impromptu ‘doorways’ would emerge, dwarfing the natural paths that emerge from the current state of affairs.

If the snowbanks weren’t cleared, I imagine that often, natural paths through the snow would be replaced by ones that went over the snow. Ephemeral staircases emerging here, a slide, improved with each use there. Some residents would proudly maintain their snow structures, adding architectural elements on sunnier days with packing snow. Others would neglect the snow structures outside their homes, leading to dangerous and forboding entrances and exits through the mountain-banks.

I owe the theory of “seasonal snow structures” to my brother, who has reported their existence in the less snow-removal-able Halifax. And Ted,   helped imagine the snowy structures that would exist if Montreal wasn’t so capable at dealing with the snow.

When I sit in my living room and watch the street, I am amazed by the leagues of municipal snow removers, working “quietly” in the night so that the people of Montreal can enjoy their city the next day, unhindered. The yellow and black trucks and plows that patrol the streets are another instance where one can contemplate the odd nature of the urban –  an intense concentration of human activity; so many interests and motivations and reasons for why Montreal is here, and why I am here in Montreal; the weather patterns that bring in squalls and storms; the architecture and behaviour that has emerged because of them – this is the city – the complex urban.

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