Only in Québec City
The narrow streets of Old Québec are lined with homes whose facades hug the sidewalk. And when the snow builds up on their sloping roofs, there is a risk it might slide off and down onto pedestrians. Which is why teams of specialists regularly clear the snow from the roofs of Old Québec—though at times the workers performing this high wire act are better off with mountain-climbing equipment!
Unique to Old Québec
On average Québec City sees more snowfall than any other city in the province: 315 cm per year. Generally the snow stays from December on and melts in April. What’s more, the winds along the St. Lawrence blow almost continuously in the city, meaning that more snow builds up on some roofs.
The French settlers who made the area their home in the early 17th century quickly had to adapt to the harsh climate. One of the first things they did was build steeper roofs than in France to stop them from collapsing under the weight of the snow. This architectural feature stood the test of time and became part of the French style, still very visible today in Old Québec. Even the 19th century British styles would incline the roof in deference to the climate.
Winter and UNESCO world heritage
Old Québec was already attracting tourists by the 19th century, but they have increased in number since the city was made a prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Since Québec City also uses its appeal as a winter city—a fact there is no getting away from—to attract visitors, safely removing snow from the roofs of Old Québec has become a priority, to the point of developing new techniques.
A traditional trade
For years workers would scramble up onto the roofs of Québec homes to remove the snow. They took good care of them to preserve their historical value—and keep them watertight. But they also had to be careful not to fall to the ground along with the ice and snow. Which is why they began to secure themselves with ropes when setting out to break the blocks of ice and hardened snow with wooden mallets.
As these tightrope walkers go about their work in the freezing cold, team members posted in the streets below get pedestrians and the occasional car to wait.
Specialist snow removal
A few years ago, a young company looking to make the process faster and more efficient revolutionized the world of clearing snow from historical roofs—which are particularly common in the city—by combining techniques from climbing, tree pruning, and rope work. Using state-of-the-art equipment, these spidermen are able to reach the nooks and crannies of any roof, no matter how complex, in a single bound (or two).
Their specialized system uses anchors, rigging, harnesses, and hooks and clasps to clear snow off surfaces large and small in record time, keeping risks and inconvenience to a minimum for pedestrians and drivers in Old Québec. Property owners and the local authorities can breathe easier.