“Oh look,” sneered my co-worker from Toronto. “It’s a Vancouver blizzard.”
I pivoted to look outside our office window with excitement, only to see it ever so lightly snowing. You know the drill: when and if snow falls in Vancouver in any given winter, you can be assured that every smug easterner you know will inevitably tease you for it, lording their decades of weather suffering over you.
“Vancouverites have no clue how to deal with winter,” a friend from Winnipeg attempted to explain to me over burritos at Tacofino. “A little bit of snow should not cause chaos in the streets.”
Now wait just a West Coast minute. I have news for you, Prairie Princess: Winnipeg is a FLAT city. Here’s another bulletin: that tony Winnipeg neighbourhood of River Heights? It’s at the exact same elevation of the rest of your city! You’ve been duped! Vancouver Heights between Highway 1 and Boundary Road? That’s a Heights!
In fact, most major Canadian cities outside of Vancouver, Halifax and St. John’s are all pretty flat. Here in Vancouver, we have these things called hills and mountains to contend with. I would love to put a recently planted winter warrior from Oakville onto Oak Street, driving north to West Sixth Avenue on a blanket of fresh snow (if only for the satisfaction of seeing them plow into the duck pond of Charleson Park).
You see, I actually think that born-and-bred West Coasters are pretty damn good winter drivers. Many of us have grown up frequenting the local mountains and, in turn, have dealt with steep, wet, snowy conditions every winter for our entire lives.
I’ll never forget the time a band from Saskatchewan stayed over at my parents’ home in hilly West Vancouver during my years as a teenaged promoter. It had snowed, and when the band attempted to steer their van onto my parents’ steep street, they lost control and smashed through a neighbour’s fence. They came to rest in the middle of our neighbour’s front lawn, the van completely entangled and illuminated in a holiday light display. The only one hurt was a flattened snowman.
When I found the band, they were still sitting inside their van.
“What happened?” I asked.
“We started sliding so I hit the brakes,” the driver/drummer told me. “But… we kept going!”
“You mean you didn’t lightly pump the brakes, gear down, and turn into the skid?”
The Saskatchewanian rocker stared at me with a blank expression.
What many Canadians living east of the Rockies also fail to acknowledge is that our West Coast white stuff is often heavy, wet and slick, which is great for snowmen and toboggan runs, but not so fortuitous for driving down Thurlow Street to the Burrard Bridge.
On the rare snow day here in Vancouver, there is often a crackling of excitement from locals. You can hear it at work, on the radio, and especially if you have young kids. On Sunday afternoon, mine were pressed against the living room window marveling at the delicate flakes falling from the sky, eager to get outside and play, play, play and play some more.
We’re lucky enough to live close to a park that boasts a big, broad hill that becomes the neighbourhood toboggan course with every significant snowfall. Local kids have gathered here through the generations, and now my children partake in the joyful tradition.
And with a fresh snowfall the likes of which Vancouver saw on Sunday evening, with it comes a layer of still beauty that we see so little of in our dark, blustery and rainy winters.
There is a special kind of light that a blanket of snow gives off at night, reflecting the street lights and the moon, allowing kids to stay out just a little bit later than usual on these special snowy occasions.
So ignore those glib easterners, Vancouver. We shall continue to embrace our city’s rare snow days with a happiness usually reserved for the kids. Just avoid driving Tolmie Street down to Spanish Banks — you could end up in Burrard Inlet.