People and Places

Green Christmas is blue for Ottawa’s snowplow companies

Snow blowers sit idle in a muddy lot on Saunderson Drive. It’s been a slow season for plow operators — but they say they’ll be ready when the first snows hit, likely in January. Photo above courtesy Joey Roberge.

Large rumbling snow plows and tractors are not the familiar sight they usually are in Ottawa at this time of year. Less than a centimetre of snow has fallen this winter, compared to the dump of more than 40 centimetres that came down in November and December last year, according to Environment Canada.

Owner Joey Roberge of J.R. Lawn and Snow said the lack of snow and balmy temperatures won’t last forever.

“Winter is a five-month gig,” he said. “For all we know, the first week in January we could get 80 centimetres.”

Roberge should know — he picked up a shovel when he was 15 and hasn’t put it down in 18 years.

However, he said that current conditions don’t encourage clients to “hang up the shovel” and hire a professional.

Lots of snow would be far better for business. He said that he has 500 or 600 fewer customers than he did this time last year.

Kent Peddie, owner of Precision Snow Removal, said new requests are down this year, but not in significant numbers.

“We do live in Ottawa. Winter is going to be coming, it’s just delayed a little bit,” he said.

Both Roberge and Peddie said the bulk of their business is done after the New Year, between 15 and 18 services.

On average, there are three plows prior to New Year’s Eve. Roberge said this was the first time in nearly 20 years he hasn’t cleared a single driveway before January.

Forecasts from weather experts have predicted heavier snows in January and February, and a return to more seasonal temperatures.

“Warmer conditions typically brew a bigger snowfall,” Roberge said. “When it’s very, very bone-chilling cold like last year, we didn’t get huge volumes.”

Temperatures between zero and minus five are perfect for more powder.

One unexpected benefit to the lack of snow is more time to prepare and finesse their services.

Instead of the frantic surge in requests in late November and December, Peddie said customer calls have been more spaced out and sporadic, making the demand easier to manage.

His staff is out practicing on the snow-free roads right now, which is difficult but allows his crew to do more dry runs before a big storm hits.

Roberge said his company is also busy.

“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes that the average customer doesn’t see,” he said, like keeping up databases, training staff, and configuring GPS trackers for units.

Peddie agreed. Having the extra time to fix tractors, figure out route lists, and tighten schedules will make his business more efficient.

“The more time you have to prepare for something, the more polished you can make your end product,” he said.

Peddie said most customers have been positive and view his service as an investment, despite the lack of snow.

“A lot of people treat it as sort of an insurance policy — if your house doesn’t catch on fire, you don’t get mad at your insurance company,” he said.