Reader J.H. sent in the following memoir of his days working on snow-clearing crews.
In the early 1970s, I worked on city snow removal covering Snowdon. In much of west end Montreal back then, most of the city contracts were bid on by companies founded by Italian-Canadians who had garden centres or who did construction or paving work in the summer. Many were based along Upper Lachine Road (St. Jacques today). Snowblowers owned by the Nittolos and Bianchinis were familiar sights in NDG.
City salt and sand trucks went out as soon as a snowfall started. Contractors' plows went out as soon as the snow started accumulating. By the time it was around three inches, there would be enough to have it removed by using the snowblower once the snowfall and plowing were finished.
We had a priority list for what had to be done first when removing the snow. Major streets like Decarie and Queen Mary were at the top of the list. Any street with transit routes was also a priority. Then came the others. You tried to work by following the permanent "No Parking" signs.
At that time, many side streets like Coolbrook, Earnscliffe and Isabella, Dupuis had "No Parking" regulations between 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM or 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM on alternating sides of the street and on different days to allow for street cleaning in the summer or snow removal in the winter. During very severe snowfalls, the parking regulations could be superseded by those wooden sandwich board "no parking" signs we used to use.
By far the biggest problem was parked or abandoned cars. Some people would just leave their stalled cars in a snowstorm to pick up later. Others would leave them under a mound of snow parked where they were during the storm. Granted, snowplows would often leave a car behind a giant pile of snow but there is no other option when you are trying to plow a street clear for emergency vehicles or buses.
Then there were others who would park outside of plowed snowbanks for "just a minute" while they went into a store even though the sandwich board signs warned of imminent snow removal. The worst of that was always on Queen Mary and Decarie near Queen Mary. We could have three tow trucks with warning horns blaring and people would still come out in a daze surprised their cars were in the way.
For a time the city tried using orange "No Parking" lights but the idea was fairly costly and didn't seem to be an improvement. If the blaring horn didn't work, a Montreal cop in the tow truck would write out a parking ticket and the tow truck operator would hook up the car to be moved to another street where snow clearing was finished or wouldn't be done for a few days. The snow removal company paid the cop's wages.
After an average snowfall, snow removal began with a parade of plows. Graders with their blades were especially good at scraping down the sidewalks. They had to avoid trees and other obstructions so Bombardier sidewalk plows would clear the space between trees and so on. Then another grader would push the snowbank away from the curb making a nice neat pile. Yet another would then push the "dressed" snowbank back toward the curb so the truck and snowblower could fit side-by-side for loading.
Then came the star of the show: the Sicard Snowmaster snowblower. The right-hand drive Sicard would usually be operated by one person driving and also working the chute controls. A "leader" walked backwards in front of the snowblower to help the truck driver coordinate his speed and spacing with the snowblower. The "leader" also kept an eye on obstructions or debris in the snow before the blower got there. While the blower impeller blades and rollers are powerful, shear bolts will break as a safety measure if the blower were to pick up something other than snow. The impeller blades and rollers are finely balanced and could easily be damaged by solid items.
After large storms, we often used two snowblowers. A large plow would loosen the snowbanks for the first blower. Then came the graders and other plows followed by the second snowblower that did the final clearing.
Once the blowers passed, you would have a clean street with a definable sharp curb. The city foreman would be around in his pickup truck to make sure the streets were up to set standards.
While blowing snow onto lawns was the norm at one time in Montreal, increasing use of salt and abrasives soon put a stop to the practice as did a few broken basement windows. It might still occasionally be done during extreme snow emergencies.
Before anyone complains and as other have noted, very few other cities clear snow to a Montreal standard. Most leave the snowbanks for the spring thaw, especially on side streets.
Trucks --depending on where they were working -- used to dump their loads into the river off the Concordia Bridge, into city-operated snow melters, special sewer access points or in large open areas like the Turcot Yards, behind Blue Bonnets and so on. Many of these areas still had piles of blackened melting snow as late as June. Snow — to my knowledge — is no longer dumped into sewers or the river because of the residual salt and oils' effects on the environment.
Private contractors were not unionized and we worked until the job was done (usually four to five days). The standard shift was 12 hours with an hour to eat. If it was a larger storm, we would often put in a 36-hour day with meal breaks. Today, safety regulations probably wouldn't allow that.
There were many characters and memorable incidents during those years although I'm sure some wouldn't want the stories repeated.