Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Bartering in the blizzard: How a neighbourhood managed before the stores reopened

When Andie Bulman found herself out of butter after the blizzard, she got in touch with neighbours. And something kind of magical happened.

I ran out of butter, and got in touch with neighbours — and then the magic happened

Sandy Gow shovels out her car, with a little help from Andie Bulman. In return for the shovelling, Gow's family traded tea bags. (Rory Lambert)

We'll always remember this storm. 

Stories of how we tunneled through snowdrifts to free our neighbours, and collectively heralded Baby Snow as our once and future king, will be swapped for years.

For me, the most significant lesson learned is that bartering and sharing are alive and well. 

Like most of us, I barely left my house on Friday. I made one trek outdoors (I live in the Georgestown neighbourhood, not far from the downtown core), but mostly draped myself in blankets, played Scrabble, and prayed to the Netflix gods that we wouldn't lose power.

Saturday came and our power flickered back on. I thanked the Netflix gods and the Light and Power B'ys. Then I turned on the radio. The state of emergency was already a day in effect. Roads were carless, stores were closed. The mayor warned that this could continue for at least a few days.

My supplies had held up pretty good, but I made a few critical errors — most notably, I was already low on butter.

I reached out to the world via Facebook. Beehak (a talented pastry chef) responded! She would be happy to trade a cup of butter for two eggs.

We met halfway down Barnes Road and made the swap. It felt like something that would have happened in the 1930s.

Bulman found herself feeling the best of a neighbourhood spirit in the wake of last week's blizzard in St. John's. (Submitted by Andie Bulman)

Later that day, I baked several blueberry crisps and bartered one for ground coffee and buttermilk (I wanted to make waffles). I also gave a blueberry crisp to my next-door neighbours. They had lent me snowshoes, so I could venture downtown into the carless snowglobe world.

The trade seemed more than fair.

Needed butter, had vodka

I'm a creature who consumes tons of butter and after an afternoon of baking, I was low again. I emptied out my liquor cabinet and swapped vodka for more butter.

Later in the day, I traded tonic water and limes for chips and tea bags. 

Each time I left my house, I carried a backpack and shovel. 

There was no shortage of shovelling opportunities on Barnes Road after the blizzard ended. (Andie Bulman )

I stopped at neighbours' houses and pitched in along the way. The neighbourhood was alive.

People were trading supplies, digging out fire hydrants, and helping each other out. I passed several bonfires, impromptu snowboarding trails and really gorgeous snow forts.

I was constantly offered beer in exchange for my labour, which seemed especially generous considering what a hot commodity beer is in the barter system. I've been trying to do a dry January, so I declined each time.

Hot chocolate, anyone? 

In one neighbourhood, a big Victorian house had set up a hot chocolate booth and from all over weary shovels stopped for a break. The snow was brutal, but compassion and sharing matched it tit for tat.

Our own car was buried in a seven-foot drift. Friends, my husband and I tackled it for two hours and took a break.

When I returned to my car, someone had blown it out completely. I could have kissed them — or at least given them a high five.

By late Saturday, Mark Wilson, organic farmer and man about town, set up a Facebook Group called Stone Soup. It was/is a place where people could swap supplies or ask for help if their food ran out during the state of emergency.

Andie Bulman can be seen in the right of this photo, as she headed to help her friend Rory Lambert and his son, Ian. (Sandy Gow/Submitted by Andie Bulman)

Some folks offered to trek across the city in skis to deliver toilet paper. Others baked bread and knocked on doors. I hope Mark keeps the site up, because it almost stands as a monument to both human kindness and the lack of food security we have in this province. 

By Sunday, I had settled into my state of emergency routine.

Shovel something for someone, catch up on missed work and emails, go for a walk and trade my supplies for other supplies, keep an eye on Stone Soup in case someone needed something that I had, and then read or play video games with my dog and husband. 

Monday night, we had a neighbourhood cookout, something we haven't done before.

Luke and Nina opened up their home and carved out some snow seats in their front lawn. Others baked treats, emptied out their freezers, and dragged over their barbecues.

We had a celeriac, apple and moose sausage dish; carrot ginger soup; leek and potato soup; Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread, ribs, moose chili, nachos and more blueberry crumble. Everyone brought their babies. The good cheer was palatable.

I broke my resolution of having a dry January and had a glass of prosecco.

After all of the bartering and kindness, sharing a drink with my neighbours had never seemed so important.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Andie Bulman

Freelance contributor

Andie Bulman is a chef, writer and comedian in St. John's. She is the author of the book Salt Beef Buckets: A Love Story and writes frequently for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.


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