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Our National Sport

AN-RJSnowLast weekend, I spent roughly four hours with a shovel in hand. As Chris Murphy –– one of the residents of Mount Olympus who works at Canada’s Weather Network –– explained to my mother via Twitter, we were in line for some lake effect snow… and here in Waterloo, we certainly got our share. I’m not sure what the official totals were, but I know that when I dug into the drifts, they were easily between 20 and 30 centimeters deep.

It was great.

You have to understand, I come from Newfoundland. I may speak only for myself in this, but I happen to think of driveway shoveling as my home province’s very own national sport (shut up, Newfoundlanders with actual athletic ability –– I’m a writer, let me have this).

Of course, when we practice our sport at home, we’re typically up against a whole lot more than a couple of dozen centimeters (or around 10 inches, for the Imperialists); when snow comes off the Atlantic, it’s rarely so modest. Put it this way: no one should be allowed to use the term ‘snowpocalypse’ until they’ve lived through at least one Newfoundland winter.

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Photo stolen from my Aunt Hayes, of Paradise, Newfoundland. The plateau the snowmobile is sitting on? That’s the street. The plow hadn’t passed yet.

I remember entire snowy weeks during my childhood in St. John’s, when school simply couldn’t happen –– we’d watch The Weather Network’s five-day local forecast, and see 50 centimeters one day, 100 cm the next, then 75, then another 50, then 100 again. It was awesome –– especially since, as a youngster, I didn’t actually have to shovel any of it. My dad and our dear neighbor, Kitchener Miller (ahem) would attack our shared driveways in tandem, my dad using a shovel and Mr. Miller (who was at least 70, and like the character not-at-all based on him, stood barely more than five feet) using a snowblower.

Of course, I helped… but my version of helping largely involved demanding more snow be blasted onto our lawn, to beef up my fort. Had I been responsible for making sure the driveways were actually clear during those wars of snow attrition, I doubt I’d remember blizzards quite so fondly… but I was a kid, so I adored them.

And I still do.

It helps that, here in southwest Ontario, a blizzard doesn’t deliver quite the same back-breaking load of snow that I grew up with. We get our share from time to time, but I’d wager that the accumulation we’ve seen this season barely adds up to a really bad week in Newfoundland. That means I get to maintain my illusions; I can go out for two hours a day on a weekend, and succeed in clearing out a driveway, a long sidewalk, someone else’s driveway, part of the street… and have it not all filled back in twenty minutes later by more snow.

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Hey Newfoundlanders, this is an Ontario blizzard. Isn’t it cute? For one thing, you can actually see both me (right) and my dad (left) in this picture — not just blowing snow.

Honestly, it’s satisfying. There’s something magical about seeing the world covered it bright white snow… and something just as wonderful about successfully clearing it away, so that the black pavement can contrast with the white banks. My mother says my grandfather shared my preference to clean a driveway ‘down to the pavement’, and I know my dad does too. Perhaps most of us do… including, of course, Lady Alex Smith.

Sorry, I had to find a segue to make this love-letter-to-shoveling seem loosely related to Iceberg, so I’m going to leverage the fact that our intrepid Champion loves shoveling as much as I do. If you haven’t caught up with Snapdragon yet, I suppose this is sort of a spoiler: the story opens with Alex shoveling the lane leading up to her house.

It’s a long, dirt-covered stretch, which means I would undoubtedly quit if I tried to clear it… but being a Champion with genetically-engineered strength and speed, our whitecoat is more than happy to take on the challenge. Indeed, she basically stays out all day, literally icing up in the process, because she can. And honestly, if I could do the same without dying of hypothermia, I just might. Chalk this up as one other way I envy my characters.

And yes, I know I’m not right in the head. I just accept it.

Anyway, I do hope the International Olympic Committee reads this note, and decides to add driveway shoveling to the winter games. I have little doubt that Canada would sweep the podium… but with all due respect to my many dear friends from northern Ontario and the Maritime Provinces, the gold would be taken by a Newfoundlander.

Not me, obviously –– as much as I’m a Newfoundlander at heart, I have the snow-shoveling arms of an Ontarian. But one of us will win… and then we’ll get up the next day and do it all over again. Trust me, we’re used to that.

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This is from 2013; we shoveled the driveway, then we shoveled the sidewalk for a few houses in either direction, then we shoveled the street (plow protection), then we shoveled the neighbor’s driveway, then we shoveled more of the street. Then we stood around and talked about the shoveling we’d done.

Note: The people of Newfoundland have in no way endorsed this author note. They undoubtedly think I’m cracked. But so are they, whether they admit it or not. And chances are, they’ll admit it.