Little city in the snow: Memorial University digs out

When it comes to cleaning up after a blizzard, Memorial University works quickly.

Memorial University has 30 kilometres of road to clear, sidewalks and buildings

A snowblower gets to work Thursday afternoon at Memorial University's St. John's campus. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With 15,000 students in a space that's the size of more than a few city blocks, Memorial University in St. John's is a high-traffic area.

But when it comes to clearing snow, it has an advantage: Lots of those people leave campus to go home.

Jeff Boland is the acting director of maintenance at Memorial University. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Here on the university campus, when there's a storm, everything shuts down," said Jeff Boland, acting director of maintenance. "We're able to work away with little to no interruption."

The university was up and running Thursday after this week's blizzard shut down the St. John's campus for two days.

It took a lot of work to get things into working order. 

Rubber to the road

Boland says they have crews working around the clock to clear out exits to residence buildings, the Health Sciences complex, and loading bays for university food courts — even during the blizzard.

"Really, from midnight Monday night until the wee hours of this morning, these guys have been working around the clock. One shift on, one shift off," he said.

Staff, not students, are responsible for digging out the walkways for Memorial University residences. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The roadways, sidewalks and other areas aren't cleaned up until after the storm stops. But for those vital areas, Boland says the university has a responsibility to make sure students still get fed, that buildings can be evacuated, and that people can still get in and out of the hospital.

That means loading bays for the Hatcher House dining hall stays cleared, sometimes by shovelers or lonely plows.

 "We have to make sure exits, walkways and things are clear for life-safety type things. And when the storm is over, that's when big clean-up starts," he said.

Big numbers

The university employs about dozens of ground crew, and owns a few of its own trucks and plows. But most of the road and parking lot cleaning is done by contractors.

There will be upwards of a dozen pieces of clearing equipment on the road on a day like Thursday.

When the weather gets ugly, students can always use Memorial University's tunnel network. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

With over 30 kilometres of road inside its borders, and 1,500 students living on the St. John's campus, Boland agrees that the university is like a tiny city inside a bigger one.

All that snow gets pushed into piles, but eventually it has to go somewhere. Eventually, trucks are brought in to ship it off. Most of the snow gets brought to an abandoned university field.

"We can give you a deal on snow, no problem," Boland jokes.

Unfair to compare Memorial with St. John's, says Boland

And while some CBC listeners have been critical of the city's removal efforts this week, Boland says it's unfair to compare Memorial with St. John's — the city doesn't have the luxury of a disappearing population.

Coun. Danny Breen told CBC's On the Go that the city does most of its snow removal overnight because there's less pedestrian and vehicle traffic than during the day, especially downtown.

"It involves a lot of heavy equipment that's moving in and out of the area, so it gives us an opportunity to shut down the area and it's least disruptive as well for traffic and businesses," said Breen.

"For safety purposes, No. 1, it's better to do overnight, and certainly for efficiency of operations as well, overnight is better."

About the Author

Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter based in Gander.