An Ugly Side of Winter

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Every year, Canadians engage in a months-long war of attrition against winter weather. Put gloves on, you win a round, add the winchill factor and you lose one. Efficient heating systems, one point, ice coating power lines, winter is back in the game again. And… touchdown! The entire month of February with temperatures below – 10°C! Oh oh… global warming? Never mind, take glacial temperatures!

Each environment, no matter where on earth, presents challenges. For instance, in Puerto Iguazú, our clothes were stained with the red clay that would turn into thick mud after each downpour. And every time I go to the seaside, I always feel I’m carrying out half of the beach in my shoes and my bag.

In Canada, we battle with salt—not common table salt but de-icing sodium chloride. “I’ve just spent an hour and a half of my precious free time trying to clean the hallway!” I complained to my mom over the phone. “The mats were full of salt.”

Much has been written about our “magical” Canadian winters, and people often picture themselves at home, in front of the fireplace, lazily sipping a mug of hot chocolate, watching snowflakes falling gracefully outside and slowly building up the kind of scenery featured on postcards and shared online.

And I can’t disagree: right after a major snowfall, it is pretty. Unpractical, but pretty.

Unfortunately, a picturesque winter dreamland scenery “ages” as well as your average Disney teen pop star.

In their fight against winter, Canadians won the first round ingeniously, by spreading copious amounts of salt on the roads and sidewalks. It is a necessary evil to avoid slips and falls and to make ice melt faster.

However, in the long run, salt won the war. Spray-salt damage is evident everywhere. The roads and sidewalks are white, slushy and grainy, cars are covered in a thick layer of white powder. The harsh salt melts off your shoes and stains your clothes. The roads are bumpy, with huge potholes, and the asphalt is cracked because of the constant freeze-thaw cycles.

These days, our snowbanks are not the kind of pretty fluffy mountains on top of which you want to climb and make snowballs. No, snowbanks are half-snow half-salt—coarse black salt, that looks like gravel.

Urban fixtures disappeared months ago under mountains of ice, snow and salt, and at one point, we all decided we did not give a damn about them. We will find—and use—garbage cans, picnic tables, playgrounds and benches again in the spring. One day. Meanwhile, people seem to constantly stepping over something—puddles of slush, snowbanks, ice patches…

It’s hard to find beauty in this greyish and bleak scenery. But this is our reality.

You can see more pic­tures of win­ter in Ottawa on Flickr.

Bags of Salt at the Supermarket

Bags of Salt at the Supermarket

Fresh Snow

Fresh Snow

Salt, Ice and Snow Melting

Salt, Ice and Snow Melting

Snowbank with Salt

Snowbank with Salt

Pothole

Pothole

Sidewalk and Salt

Sidewalk and Salt

Cracked Asphalt

Cracked Asphalt

Man Shoveling Snow

Man Shoveling Snow

Winter Flower

Winter Flower

Puddle of Water

Puddle of Water

Discarded Tim Hortons Cup

Discarded Tim Hortons Cup

Picnic Tables

Picnic Tables

Garbage Can

Garbage Can

Benches by the Bus Stop

Benches by the Bus Stop

Car That Has Been Parked There For a While...

Car That Has Been Parked There For a While…

Salt and Snow

Salt and Snow

Stepping Over the Snowbank

Stepping Over the Snowbank

Car Coated in Salt

Car Coated in Salt

Ice and Salt

Ice and Salt

Wooden Fence and Snow

Wooden Fence and Snow

Salt at the Curb

Salt at the Curb

Ice, Snow and Slush

Ice, Snow and Slush

Snowbank

Snowbank

Sidewalk

Sidewalk

No Nudity at the Convenience Store (Gee, Who Would Want To?)

No Nudity at the Convenience Store (Gee, Who Would Want To?)

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

19 Comments

  1. I can’t imagine what would be the impact of salt on the environment. I really don’t want to browse online because I think it’s going to be too depressing… :-/

  2. Well the thing about salt in snow is completely new to me, however I can’t help but express my shock that you have potholes in Ottawa.

    I have grown up in cities and towns with potholes, so no biggy! but at the same time I have grown up with a notion that there are no potholes in Canada.

    A bubble has been burst.

    • We have so many potholes here, it’s… bad. Seriously. We even vote “worst roads in Canada” (Carling, in Ottawa, close to my place, won several times in a row). Freeways are smooth, but city roads are awful. And it’s worst in Montreal.

  3. Great series – this is something I don’t usually think much about and I love these pictures that are a very-true capturing of late winter/early spring in Ottawa. It’s an ugly time of year.

  4. When I miss Canada, I remind myself of WINTER. Then I take a dose of reality with pictures like yours. Thank you. (Today it’s cold here: 28°C… ha ha. Sorry!) 🙂

  5. Martin Penwald on

    I’ve heard on the CBC that this february was the coldest since 115 years. And it is probably linked to global warming, or, for better accuracy, climate change.

    Edmonton has bad asphalt too, but I think it is still worse in eastern Canada.

    • Montreal is worst than Ottawa, I think. What’s the worst road in Canada, dear expert? (Nunavut doesn’t count… oh wait, there are no roads, right?)

  6. Ouep, y’a pas que les beaux paysages blancs en hiver au Canada :/ Personnellement, j’avais emmené mes petites bottes “fancy” et je ne les ai presque pas mises parce que j’avais peur de les scrapper à cause du sel dans les rues 🙁 Remarque, c’est bien et nécessaire pour le bon fonctionnement en général! Tu imagines tout un hiver dans sel avec toute la neige qui tombe?!

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