Snow Removal in Montreal

This post and the next will regard the different ways that Montreal and Chicago deal with snow respectively. They are primarily to explain to those in the opposite city how things are done in each city.

One of the fascinating aspects about winters here in Montreal and many parts of Quebec is that the local governments actually cart away the snow instead of just plowing it to the side. It makes sense since the snow piles lining the streets would easily be ten feet high or more. Plus available parking would be greatly reduced along with the width of the streets. This is evident after each major snowfall. So here is a play by play of the snow removal process. Ed of Blork fame also wrote about it more eloquently for BootsnAll Travel a few years back. The difference is that I have pictures to show people back in Chitown. I’ve been wanting to do this since my first winter here. Anyhow, here’s the drill.

Signs like the orange ones below are posted along the street to advise residents that they will be clearing the street during the specified 12 hour period and that parking is not allowed. They usually give 12 hours notice. At the beginning of the time period, tow trucks make their way down the street and blare a distinctive horn when they come upon a car. If no one comes out to move the car, it is towed away.

Once the street is cleared of cars, these mini-bulldozers push the snow from the sidewalks out to the street. These are the same mini-bulldozers that clear the sidewalks. Yes, those of you in Chicago, the city clears the sidewalks. No walking on shoe width icy snow packed footpaths.

Then construction graders and front-end loaders are used to pile the snow up into a nice ridge going down the street.

Then the queen mother of all snowblowers comes out. It is usually attached to the front of a truck or another piece of construction equipment. Following behind are an army of dump trucks all waiting to be filled with snow, dirt, pebbles, leaves, small deceased animals, or whatever else is buried in the snow.

So then the snowblower moves slowly down the street filling a dumptruck moving alongside until it is full and replaced. I’ve seen a few times now where 2 or 3 trucks are needed per block.

The snow is then carted away to dumping sites. I had seen them around town, but it took me a while to realize that these 3-story mountains were actually where the snow went. The one in our suburb is on average 20 feet deep and about the size of a football field by the end of the season. I would love to say that they don’t melt until late July or that they become year-round resident glaciers. But in actuality, they melt away usually by the first of May.

So there you have it. That’s the impressive (and expensive) method of snow removal here in Montreal. I’m really glad to have gotten this post written. It has been one that I really wanted to write from the beginning.


~ by Frank on January 23, 2006.

17 Responses to “Snow Removal in Montreal”

  1. I remember seeing some archival photos of early Montreal — before cars — and horse-drawn sleighs travelled on hard packed snow roads 12 to 15 feet high. All the shops on either side of the road were in trenches and people had to climb up and down to gain access.

    Time have changed.

  2. Two of my children went to boarding school in Ottawa. They brought home newly honed hockey skills and a vertiable fever for the game. But more interesting to their mother were the fairy tales about huge snowfalls being carted away in trucks. One could not fairly imagine that what they were reporting had any connection to reality. Granted they were more interested in regaling us with every minute detail of their hockey exploits and were not in the least focused on providing the details of how trucks came by and hauled the snow away lickety-split.

  3. Until a few years ago, the dump trucks used to drive to the Concorde Bridge (that’s the one that goes to the Casino on Isle St. Helene), and from there they would dump the snow in the river. However, this isn’t exactly pristine snow — it’s full of salt, oil, grease, and all sorts of other junk, so they stopped doing that because it was polluting the river.

  4. Wow! That’s the most hits I’ve had in a day.

    Paolo, I’d really like to see one of those photos and maybe find out what year they started doing it. I’ll do some research and maybe post about it.

    mrne, Yes, it is quite surprising for those of us from the midwest. I’ll find out the difference in snowfall before the next post.

    blork, Didn’t know that about the Concorde bridge snow removal technique. The south shore suburb of St-Lambert gets fined every year by Environment Canada (or maybe Quebec) because their snow pile is directly across the 132 from the seaway. They claim the runoff goes into the seaway. Wonder why they don’t just find another place for the pile.

  5. I recall the big storm of 1967 here in the city of big shoulders where it was big news to cart off the snow in trucks. We had 23 inches in a short amount of time on a Thursday morning, we were released from school early and upon arrival home we already had over a foot of snow. I was a high school student and had a yen for the sciences including the weather. I developed a correspondence with the local TV weatherman and he gave my city snowfall and temperature reading on the air. I was the LBO, Lincoln Belmont Observer. During that storm my sister and her new groom drove in from San Diego non-stop trying to stay ahead of the storm. A milk truck became stuck in the snow and just openned his doors and gave away the milk , cheese and eggs.
    It is interesting how the compassionate and concern for others side of people rise up during an emergency. I’m sure the folks in Montreal have similar stories from ice storms etc.
    All in all, I have faith in people to do the right things to help others in time of need.

  6. Yes, I hope to pass on that interest in science to my kids as you have with myself. Along with an appreciation for charity work like we did with Little Brothers of the Poor.

    It is funny how I have already gotten so used to how much snow there is here. Shovelling the driveway every other day is not a big deal. Great for the biceps and shoulders.

  7. This message brought back some nice memories of my 3 years in Montreal.

    On one occasion, I wasn’t home when the tow trucks came to clear the street ahead of the plow, and my car got taken away.

    The best part was, though, that they just towed it around the corner and left it there, not at some municipal pound halfway across town.

    I thought that was great.

  8. 12 hours notice on the signs? Hah! They have given me as little as 15 minutes notice. You just have to guess when they might post the damn signs.

    Fortunately, they just tow the car around the corner, unlike in New York, where they tow the car to somewhere in Queens.

  9. I have seen some snow removal in Chicago, but not on the scale you suggest for Montreal. After major snow, you will see parking lots in parks with piles of snow. I am pretty sure the side streets are left to fend for themselves.

  10. So in Montreal you get snow removal and street cleaning at the same time? Wow, that’s cool. In Chicago when the snow melts (and you don’t live in the high-tax, pro-active Alderman district of Lincoln Park) it has to really work its way to the sewers because of all the leaves left on the streets from fall.

    What about salt and/or sand? In Chicago the Streets and San love to coat the streets with a nice layer of the salty stuff. If it was less snow than they expected, the snow melts from the center of the steet and the asphalt is white or light gray because of all the salt left. Sometimes if you’re crossing the street after a car goes by you can actually taste the salt on your lips that is kicked up by the car (truly gross!).

  11. Wow, they actually remove the snow during the day. I live right downtown and I suppose they never want to get in anyone’s way so they wait until 4 am to start the removal. Somehow they have their own noise by-laws!

  12. I recall reading somewhere that Montreal had the largest snow removal budget in the world.. and I’d believe it to. It is particularly nice that they just tow people’s cars across the street, though.. and if you’re lucky they are too lazy to even give you a ticket.

    As far as salt goes, I’ve never seen anyone laying that down in Montreal, nor sand either. They just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.. as the song goes.

  13. I find it intriguing that arguably richer American cities haven’t mastered or surpassed Montreal’s snow removal techniques. Snow doesn’t shut Montreal down, even though it’s a much more relaxed and fungoing place than big American cities. One would think that big business would dictate, in the interest of not missing a moment for commerce, that the American cities facing cold weather would have snow removed in a just as efficient manner. Interesting…thoughts?

  14. […] March 2nd, 2007 I just checked my feeder stats and 30 of my last 100 hits were on my post about snow removal in Montreal. I guess that’s what happens on the biggest snow day of the year. For those of you who […]

  15. […] the airport the first thing I noticed was how hot it was outside! Montreal was supposed to be the land of snow but we had plenty of lovely weather before we saw even angry looking cloud. In the guide book it […]

  16. […] those of you in warmer climates and never enjoyed a Montreal winter, Chicagoan in Montreal has a great post (photos and all) about the work that goes into snow removal […]

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