Anti-ice crusader makes comeback on Spring Garden Road
Disability activist Paul Vienneau picks up his shovel as city's sidewalks grow tougher to navigate
February 7, 2022, 1:21 pm ASTLast Updated: February 10, 2022, 10:04 am
Armed with his metal garden shovel, photographer, musician and activist Paul Vienneau took to Spring Garden Road last week to tackle a strip of sidewalk ice the city didn’t clear.
“Sidewalks belong to all of us, abled, disabled, children, adults. They have to do a better job,” he said.
On the last weekend of January, a nor’easter brought nearly 30 centimetres of snow to Halifax, and many residents criticized the city’s sidewalk-clearing efforts. The municipal service line 311 received 167 calls or emails about snow on sidewalks related to the storm. This past weekend’s ice storm only added to the city’s winter misery.
Vienneau said citizens shouldn’t have to call 311 to report icy sidewalks, and instead workers should patrol on foot to find the problem areas before someone slips and falls.
“I believe that as a citizen, period — forget my disability — as a citizen, a municipality has a responsibility to facilitate within reason as much safety and ability for us to be able to live our lives,” he said.
He calls himself the “asshole with a shovel,” but said it’s a title, not a description. He said being an asshole doesn’t lead to change.
Vienneau became well-known for shovelling snow from his wheelchair during the notoriously stormy winter of 2015. Since then, he’s become a familiar face downtown, chipping away at neglected ice and snow on sidewalks and crosswalks.
He was tasked with helping the municipality implement Bill 59, Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act, which has the goal of making the province accessible for people with disabilities by 2030. And in 2019, he was hired by the municipality as the accessibility consultant to the chief administrative officer, Jacques Dubé.
He said sidewalk clearing did improve after that “worst winter of all time,” in part due to his work with former snow removal superintendent Trevor Harvey.
But now, “it looks as if they’ve gone completely back to the way it was before.”
Vienneau spent much of last year in the hospital, and he’s now on oxygen. But he went out to shovel on Feb. 1 “just to remind them again.”
For his 2022 comeback, Vienneau cleared a sheet of ice in front of Lawtons Drugs on Spring Garden Road. He started by breaking up the ice with the edge of his shovel, which took about 15 minutes with breaks.
“So how long would it take a big strong dude or dudette from the city down here with a proper tool?” he said.
He then asked for help from passersby to move the loosened chunks off the sidewalk.
At first there weren’t any takers. Vienneau said people are warier around strangers due to the pandemic. This reporter shovelled in the meantime, and eventually a young man volunteered.
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“That felt good,” Vienneau said after the man shovelled some of the snow. He hopes he can help people get used to one another again. A second man finished the job.
Within minutes, seniors with walkers and a person with a scooter used the now-clear section of the sidewalk.
“Being alive is pretty f—ing awesome,” Vienneau said as he watched a person in a power wheelchair drive right across the wet patches left behind by the ice.
“It’s an immediate feedback you can see, and it gives me a really good feeling to just do this small thing that actually turns out to facilitate people’s lives a little better, and it’s in my neighbourhood. It’s good. It’s love.”
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