by Leslie Anthony
It has been a miserable start to winter in Whistler, B.C.. Where November and December mountain storms normally drop several metres of snow over this period, so far there’s been nothing more than a few uncharacteristic dribs and drabs. That’s climate change for you. And while Whistler-Blackcomb’s snowmakers and groomers have done an unbelievable job of keeping mountains skiable, snowy TV weather reports from elsewhere still have me yearning for a good ol’ fashioned blizzard. This isn’t unusual for snow people when there’s a lack of snow. What is unusual is that when I think of blizzards they always conjure for me an urban landscape… and a guy named Kenny the Snowblower.
Kenny’s real name was Ed, and he was our student house’s neighbour during my university days in Waterloo, Ontario. Waterloo was a snowy town where big winter storms were often followed by days of cold northwest winds driving fat squalls off Lake Huron. By December, often only a horse-drawn Mennonite buggy could navigate certain snow-clogged streets.
In those days, we often stayed up late studying. After one long evening’s work on a particularly stormy day we’d gathered around the TV to unwind with joints and beers and watch David Letterman. One of his recurring characters was Kenny the Gardener, an odd little man who rolled out a wheelbarrow full of pansies and shared verbal abuse with Dave. That night, just as Kenny appeared on the screen, the unmistakable whine of a two-stroke engine startled us. “What the..?” someone asked, just as a white plume arced into view through the window, illuminated by the porchlight. To howls of laughter someone deadpanned: “It’s Kenny the Snowblower!”
Kenny was a classic character whose windowpane glasses seemed permanently askew on his beefy face. Eternally adorned in a Maple Leafs toque and unbuttoned car coat, he worked down the street at Labbatt’s brewery and bowled for Tim Hortons. Kenny had every electrical and gas-powered gadget a union salary could buy, and most Saturdays found him searching his yard for tasks that begged new tools, leaving a trail of empty (and doubtless discounted) Labbatt’s Blue bottles and Canadian Tire catalogues in his wake. And now, apparently, he had a brand new snowblower.
The machine was ostensibly purchased to clear his own driveway, but Kenny was quickly seduced by the Archimedean lure of displacing huge volumes of snow in short order, branching out onto our driveway, that of his other neighbour, and every intervening walkway. He once cleared a path nine houses long through metre-deep drifts to the corner store.
Kenny literally prayed for snow, watching obdurate winter skies with the same fervor that engulfs anxious skiers. A storm wouldn’t rage an hour before he’d be out directing plumes in every direction, no matter the time; it wasn’t unusual to hear the strains of his bandsaw symphony when he got off shift at 3 a.m.. The passing of city plows was a cause for celebration with Kenny, who relished re-redepositing the errant slush mounds that sealed off people’s driveways.
One blue-crisp winter day we witnessed Kenny patiently explaining to his 12-year old son how to pull-start his machine, push gingerly through consolidated snow, and properly aim the effluent. Was there a more touching scene of cultural heredity in the Northern Hemisphere? We thought not. This noble passing-on of winter coping skills seemed positively Nordic, and, following the patronymal system of Scandinavia, we’d christened the kid “Kenny Snowblowersson.”
Snow was Kenny’s raison d’être, and so when flakes piled thick and deep under my nowadays porchlight in Whistler, I would often think of how much Kenny would love a place like this. I hope he’s coping better with climate change than I am.