New documentary a love letter to Edmonton's winter through the eyes of local bike couriers

The work of Edmonton's bike couriers during the city's long, cold winters is featured in the new documentary short film Snow Warrior, which is available for streaming through the National Film Board beginning Thursday.

Snow Warrior is available for streaming through the National Film Board on Thursday

Mariah Hoy, an Edmonton bike courier, cycles through the city's downtown streets in the middle of winter. (Submitted by the National Film Board of Canada)

For seven years, through long and bitter winters, Mariah Hoy would take her bicycle out into the icy streets, sometimes through inches of snowfall, delivering packages across downtown Edmonton.

Hoy worked as a bike courier, a job that made her part of a small, tight-knit community in Edmonton. Her work is featured in a new local documentary short film called Snow Warrior, which its directors call a love letter to Edmonton's winter.

The film showcases the difficult year-round work couriers endure. Hoy calls it the hardest job she's ever had.

"The days that it would just snow you, inches and inches of snow, trying to ride your bike safely through that and at the same time stay warm, like just stay upright, was very difficult," said Hoy who was interviewed on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday.

"You'd be outside riding around for an hour and then you'd come inside for five minutes and you're just chilled to the bone. And you're like that the whole day."

The icy pedal on Mariah Hoy's bicycle during her work as a courier in Edmonton. (Submitted by the National Film Board of Canada)

Snow Warrior was an official selection at the Edmonton International Film Festival in 2018, but on Thursday it will be available to streaming worldwide for the first time through the National Film Board's website.

Her courier career began as a total fluke, Hoy said. She was looking for driving work and after finding it, was asked if she could pick up shifts as a bike courier.

She was quickly impressed by the other couriers when she started and the daily adrenaline rush of the job. She began to learn more about the niche community around this work in Edmonton, including how the couriers in Edmonton are some of the highest-paid messengers in North America, and how to appreciate the beauty of riding fixed-gear bikes, she said.

Cold rider: Edmonton’s winter from a bike courier’s perspective

3 years ago
Duration 1:18
Featured VideoA National Film Board documentary follows former bike courier Mariah Hoy to explore her fun, yet frustrating, time delivering packages through the cold, icy Edmonton winters.

Another challenge facing bike couriers is drivers on the road. Even when cyclists are fast enough to keep up with traffic, Hoy says cars often pass by within inches of couriers, as if they don't realize how vulnerable cyclists are.

"They don't realize that if our wheel slips or they make one bad move or somebody parked opens their door and we swerve, we're toast. We're the ones at risk," Hoy said.

Hoy hopes that Snow Warrior will promote the industry and encourage more companies to use bike couriers, showing how their work is efficient and environmentally-friendly.

"There's this stigma around messengers that they're some hippie people that can't work any other job," Hoy said. " But really these guys are professionals, some of them have been there for 20-plus years."

When Edmonton filmmakers Kurt Spenrath and Frederick Kroetsch, the directors of Snow Warrior, first met the couriers, Hoy said she thought they were interested in filming the off-hours bike races she and her colleagues would hold for fun.

Mariah Hoy, a local bike courier, travels through downtown Edmonton by night. (Submitted by the National Film Board of Canada)

Instead, Spenrath said he was interested in the wide range of people working as couriers in Edmonton, and wanted to examine Edmonton's winter from their perspective.

"Really there's maybe two dozen bike couriers in the entire city. It's just a really cool subculture to take a look at the city through the eyes of them," Spenrath said.

Spenrath said he hopes the professionalism, skill and determination of the couriers translates to viewers When they're racing to deliver documents in under 15 minutes, Spenrath said Edmonton's couriers are putting their heart and soul into the work. 

He hopes his film can encourage drivers to be just a little nicer to cyclists.

"It might be easy to get frustrated being stuck behind a bike in an alley in winter, right up until it's your legal documents or your real estate documents that they're delivering. Then, suddenly you wish them the absolute best."