Friday, November 26, 2010

Umbrellas in a Snowstorm

Snow in the Lower Mainland is not an unheard-of thing, but from what I understand it's not a particularly common thing either. The geography produced by the mountains and the Pacific gives this area a temperate climate, sure, but that also means that most of the precipitation comes down as slashing, stinging raindrops. This week, then, has been something of a departure from the norm. True snow came down in earnest last Friday, yesterday a storm blew in to reinforce what had made it through the early days of the week. It was a storm like the ones I knew back in Ontario: not bitingly cold, thankfully, but leaving the sky full of fat, dancing snowflakes. I couldn't see Surrey from my window or the North Shore from Waterfront Station - the walls of the world had closed in.

Back in Ontario, snow was always put up as one of those great shared Canadian experiences - and, to be true, it is. The oceanic climate of the Lower Mainland, a piece of England on the West Coast, is anomalous when set against the rest of the country, much of which is dominated by the humid continental. I'm coming to realize this means that while snow is still that great shared experience, the way we deal with it differs from place to place.

Here in the Lower Mainland, "dealing with it" implies a bit more than I'm used to. The salubrious climate here means that things aren't built with winter in mind; not a problem, of course, unless winter rolls in. What I find interesting, though, is how people go about dealing, and I had a chance to see some of that yesterday. I took the SkyTrain to Vancouver well ahead of schedule, since the Canada Line had already frozen up and I wasn't much interested in getting marooned in New Westminster, only to find that it was at 100% functionality.

Once I made it to downtown Vancouver, I was confronted with something decidedly outside my experience, something I had difficulty wrapping my brain around, something I had to come out here to see: people carrying umbrellas in a snowstorm.

It's a lucky thing that this trolley got its poles knocked off the wires, or I'd never have thought to take this photograph.

I didn't bother keeping count of the number of people I saw carrying umbrellas. What I was more interested in was trying to understand them, but I felt that going up to someone and asking "Why are you carrying an umbrella?" would be far more bizarre than carrying an umbrella in the first place. Mad5l5in5 echoed the only theory I had that made a lick of sense: that they just didn't want to get snow on their heads. Sure, I personally find it strange, and in twenty-seven years of living in Ontario I never saw anyone do it, but I can understand why people here - many of whom don't necessarily have winter clothes - would.

Fine for a fair chunk of people, but look again at the left-hand umbrella-holder in that picture. That person is obviously wearing a hat that provides a lot of coverage; earlier, I saw an umbrella-holder wearing a full balaclava. The "keeping snow off their heads" explanation doesn't work for me here; really, at this point, I'd say that carrying an umbrella is a liability. It's something other pedestrians might not think to be aware of and crash into, something that could go flying if the holder steps on a patch of ice.

So - alternate theories are in order. My favorite was that they were trying to make their disbelief rolls; that if they carried their umbrella like everything was normal and just wanted it enough, then the snow would change into the rain that's the hallmark of a standard Lower Mainland winter.


  1. Were they Asian? It's very common for people to carry umbrellas in Korea when it snows. It might be a behaviour they brought with them to Canada.

  2. As far as I could tell, the hat-wearing umbrella-carriers weren't. For the hatless, it was more of a cross-section.