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A year wiser

The Worst Winter Ever is behind us. What have we learned?

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Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

What don’t kill you makes you stronger.

At least, that’s what we’ve been told. You may be surprised, as I was, to find out that this idea was first expressed by Nietzsche, and not by some wise old Southern woman. But whether it’s German or Southern, I’m doubting this platitude these days, because remember the month of March?

I probably shouldn’t bring it up, for fear of unleashing unpleasant flashbacks, but the experts say we should process our traumas. Plus, I want to believe that all that hardship came with some reward. Surely lessons were learned during our month spent digging out from snowstorm after snowstorm. So let’s count, now that the sun is (surely) shining and the birds are (surely) singing, the ways the month of March made us better, wiser, stronger and/or smarter, shall we?

First, we learned that a good neighbour is a good thing to have, but that a good neighbour with a snow blower is even better. I say that flippantly, but at a certain point, when it was evident that our municipal government’s snow-clearing capabilities had fully failed us, many of us came together as neighbourhoods and communities and did what needed to be done: we dug ourselves and our fellow citizens out.

In my case, on the day I thought I might give up and just lie down in the snow for a cry, a man I barely knew worked his way up from halfway down the street to clear the end of my driveway. Grateful doesn’t come close to describing my reaction. Still, I was luckier than many.

We know that thousands of residents were virtual prisoners in their homes because the sidewalks were impassable for weeks. This was the reality for anyone with the slightest mobility issue, and the abysmal sidewalk conditions were especially dangerous for seniors, for whom falls can be disabling and deadly.

Our municipal leaders never properly addressed these extreme limitations on the disabled, even as they pleaded for patience because the weather conditions were “out of the ordinary.” So the lesson we learned the hard way was that Halifax still has a long way to go when it comes to creating a municipality that’s accessible. Yet, despite that systemic failure, plenty of people came out to help Paul Vienneau, the self-described “Asshole With A Shovel,” as he struggled to hack out a wheelchair route so he could get around near his home downtown. Then they coordinated through his Facebook page to dig out entire neighbourhoods. Then they raised the money to buy Vienneau a new wheelchair. So, at least a little good came out of the bad in his case.

We also learned this winter about double standards. As we all witnessed, when homeowners and business owners were responsible for clearing the sidewalks, the city expected it to be done properly and within the allotted time frame. When the municipality took responsibility, well, those service standards became just kind of guidelines, really. Turns out snow clearing is hard! Especially when it keeps snowing!

Thanks to our impassable sidewalks, we discovered that the Motor Vehicle Act says, “where sidewalks are not provided, any pedestrian walking along and upon a highway shall, when practicable, walk only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic.” I already knew this was common sense (after all, I had been a Sixer in my Brownie Pack, and we often shared these wisdoms as we earned our badges in “Environmental Appreciation” and “Friend to Birds”). But I didn’t know it was the law, since I had never had the “opportunity” to put it into practice, until this year.

And speaking of motor vehicles, we learned, thanks to weeks of one-on-one lane sharing on streets narrowed by massive banks of solid ice and carelessly parked cars, that many of our fellow Haligonians are kind and cooperative, thoughtful and considerate, willing to yield and share the lane, and to offer a friendly wave in return for the same. And we also learned the hard way that quite a few other drivers are…not.

And finally, many of us learned that even when we think we can’t take any more snow, we will get more snow. And then we will discover that we actually can take more snow. So there’s a life lesson we can all cherish. 

It wasn’t all for naught. Let’s call it an educational experience and move on. Besides next year, everything (the civic inadequacies, the funky forecasts, the bungled snow clearing) will be completely different, right? Because life never gives you more than you can bear. Or some platitude to that effect.

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