Winter storm brings reflection to Ottawa’s snow clearing past

This quote was taken from an article “In the Carp Review…” written by Erskine Rivington. ‘November 21, 1929 – Preparations are being made to keep approximately 1,800 miles of the province’s 2,500 miles of highways open during the winter months. Last year 17 trucks were engaged in keeping the arteries of traffic free from snow. This coming winter will see 25 trucks and 150 men engaged in the work, R.M. Smith, Deputy Minister of Highways has announced.’

With the City of Ottawa having one of the largest networks of roads in Canada, with approximately 5938 km of roads and bike paths, 2233 km of sidewalks and 233 km of Transitway and highway to clear after a snowfall, it is a far cry from the days of yore. When Deputy Minister Smith, released this information in a 1929 press release, he was referring to all of Ontario with only a portion, at 2897 kms, of roadways being kept open with a fleet of 25 trucks and 150 men! Step back to that time and wait for the plow, let alone your bus.

Did you know that plowed roads were non-existent until the late 19th century in Ottawa?

Thomas Ahearn of Ottawa, an inventor slightly ahead of his time, owned the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (OER), that ran the electric tram service in Ottawa. Overcoming winter predicaments, Ahearn, attached an electric, rotary snow plow he had invented in 1892 to the front of his trams. Year-round transportation was guaranteed! We’ll have to wait to see how the new electrically powered LRT bears up in winter.

Clearing the 250 miles of Ottawa sidewalks was accomplished in the 1920s by using horse-drawn walkway plows that Ottawa’s Public Works Department tended to. The cost – $30,000 per season. Payment to the workmen – 50 cents an hour, with night shifts bringing in time and a half.

Campbell Motor Sales were successful in 1927 for selling Ottawa 2 Fordson crawler tractors that had Sargent plows – the cost, $2,295. A 1.5 ton Holt Caterpillar tractor with a Walsh deep-V plow was also purchased for $5,970. City Council received vicious confrontations because the acquired vehicles didn’t arrive in time for use that winter leaving the spring road conditions horrific.

(Photo: Ford Motor Company Museum)

Moving at 12 miles an hour and with a cost of $15,000, two high-powered tractor plows were purchased in 1928 at the recommendation of Frank Askwith, the Deputy Commissioner of Public Works. He also recommended that due to cost, snowbanks would not be removed. Council gave approval to these recommendations and were put in place for the following winter. Property owners, at a cost of 30 cents per foot, found themselves paying for this undertaking.

Through the years, the equipment has improved and yes, it still takes time before you see the plow coming down your street. But, we should be giving credit to our plow drivers for the job they are doing and with the efficiency that they do their job.

Oh, and one other thing, the snow shovel was invented by a woman! She may have been a New Yorker, but she definitely knew what she was doing and surely figured out the worth of this invention. Her name was Lydia Fairweather from Richmond Hill, Queens County, State of New York and she filed her Letters Patent, #899,394 on January 12, 1889.


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