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Jan/Feb 2007 – Rhymes With Useless

I pocketed an easy $1,000 one snowy week in 1996 by regaling radio audiences in central Canada with stories about how useless we Vancouver Islanders are at dealing with winter. Working as freelance writer and broadcaster, I’d get calls from Toronto radio producers seeking “local colour” from a rural islander. For a couple hundred bucks, I’d explain how even a heavy frost sends the Oxford Cambridges and all our other silly British cars spiraling off windy country lanes, or how our entire municipal snow-clearing department consisted of an aging backhoe run by a part-time TV broadcast technician.

Oh, how they lapped it up! The more I characterized us as winter-useless the more airtime I received. “You do inept very well,” said one radio producer after an especially vigorous portrayal of our seasonal dysfunction. It was a high compliment never since matched.

I was reminded of the fascination The Rest of Canada has with Vancouver Island winters as we slogged through a week of snow and ice just before Christmas. No sooner had the cold front hit than I began receiving mock sympathetic calls and emails from readers across the country wanting to know if it was true (snicker, snicker) that our schools had closed because there was a whopping six inches of snow. True, I had to confess. And yes, it was true that the cold snap had caused a run on cat sweaters. Sometimes I think Vancouver Island is Canada’s version of Bedlam, the 19th century London, England, institute for the insane, which the upper class used to visit for entertainment. Oh look, it’s snowed on the west coast—let’s watch the loonies flounder!

Actually, we do quite well in snow, considering we get a total of about five days per year. What we don’t handle well is news of snow. News of snow panics us—in much the same way as a hairpin corner panics a Saskatchewan driver, or an NDP government panics an Ontario voter.

For example, whenever snow is forecast, local radio stations default to a sort of National Disaster mode, complete with urgent music and frequent updates. I was listening to one of these stations last fall when they interrupted a song to inform us that, due the pending snowstorm, a local doggie daycare would not be open.
For good measure they repeated this vital information.

No doggie daycare—now there’s a Vancouver Island winter crisis!

In another case, a local small farmer who heard snow was forecast suggested purchasing a heavy-duty generator, “in case the snow stays until March.” It was gone in a week, of course, replaced by balmy temperatures and fast-rising crocuses.

My principal concern now is that we get a late season snowfall, say this March, and yet have used up all our ineptness. Who would the rest of Canada snicker at? Would it affect our status in Confederation? Stay tuned.

Small Farm Canada contributor Ray Ford took honours in two categories at the 2006 Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation Awards. Ray received The Peter Lewington Award, which goes for top technical writing, for his fine feature on buying new and used tractors, “Tractor Time”. That story appeared in the Mar/April, 2006 issue. He was also awarded The Jack Cram Award for his column, “At Pasture.” It is clear from Ray’s latest column (p 16) that he intends to meet or exceed the high standards he set in 2006.