Manitoba

Lack of sidewalk clearing leaves Winnipeggers with mobility impairments trapped inside

City crews have struggled to keep up with the above-average snowfall this winter and people with disabilities say the lack of snow clearing has made it difficult for them to leave their homes.

Sidewalks remain uncleared after last week's storm, with more on the way

Peter Tonge struggles to move his wheelchair over the slush and ice covering the sidewalk in front of his Grant Avenue apartment building. (CBC)

The ice and slush covering the sidewalk in front of Peter Tonge's Grant Avenue apartment building make the wheels on his wheelchair spin and catch in deep ruts. 

He hasn't been able to leave his house for a week, ever since a spring snowstorm dumped nearly a foot of snow on the city.

"It's a challenge, mentally, because we're already dealing with a pandemic and COVID, and those sort of limitations, and then we've got this on top," he said.

With sidewalks impassable, Tonge has to rely on others for transportation if he wants to go out for any reason. 

"Everything that I have to do outside of my home, I have to plan for and I have to arrange transportation and it has to be scheduled, but there's no spontaneous, 'Oh, let's run to the store or let's go do this.' That hasn't happened for months." 

Tonge notices that the street has been plowed and sanded, making transportation possible for cars and buses.

"But nothing for the sidewalks," he said.

"So for people that aren't using an automobile, you're stuck. And that seems to be the priority in the city, is let's move the buses and let's move the cars, but pedestrians are forgotten."

The above-average snowfall this winter has stretched city crews to the limit. As of last month, crews had removed 1.6 million cubic metres of snow. 

Frances Sinclair-Kaspick similarly feels sidewalk clearing in the city has not been adequate for people with mobility issues.

The quadruple amputee walks with two below-the-knee prosthetics, and describes walking over the snow and ice this winter as "very treacherous."

"I mean, most winters are for people [with disabilities], that we are kept indoors more, but this winter is really astounding," she said.

More snow coming

Private businesses also have not done enough to make sure their entrances are accessible to people with disabilities, she said.

"Whether going to a medical appointment or rather going to a store, or rather going to meetings … I felt that there was not enough salt being used to melt the ice and clear the way." 

Frances Sinclair-Kaspick is an advocate for people with disabilities. (Submitted by Frances Sinclair-Kaspick)

Like Tonge, Sinclair-Kaspick doesn't leave her house much in the winter.

"You do feel kind of trapped in. And this winter … it's been extremely, extremely difficult this winter," she said.

To cope with being stuck inside her home, Sinclair-Kaspick writes. She has published a memoir, The Mountain Within, about her life as a Cree woman living with disabilities, growing up in Winnipeg's inner city and dealing with the challenges of poverty and racism. 

She says people who have mobility challenges need to find ways to occupy themselves at home. 

"What are we going to do? And we can't always go out sometimes. So you have to try and, you know, make your little escape in your home," she said.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said people can report locations that need clearing to 311, or use an online form.

"Crews are continuing to clear sidewalks city-wide at this time, as outlined in the Council approved Policy on Snow Clearing and Ice Control, to improve conditions for sidewalk users," the spokesperson said in an email.

Updates on snow clearing operations are available on the city's website.

Between 25-35 centimetres of snow fell in last week's snowstorm, with another 8-10 cm on Sunday. More snow is expected to fall Tuesday night or Wednesday.

"It's really demoralizing," said Tonge. 

"If we get another week or two where there's going to be more planning and more scheduling and whatever just to do everyday things."

Colorado low may bring more snow to Manitoba

2 months ago
Duration 2:05
The snow is causing extra grief for people with mobility issues. Peter Tonge uses a wheelchair to get around in Winnipeg and hasn't left been able to leave his home in week. Environment Canada's forecast calls for a chance of snow on Tuesday with more certainty of it on Wednesday, but that's just the primer.

With files from Jillian Coubrough

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