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‘Our crews didn’t have a Christmas’: Behind the scenes of Coast road plowing

Who is responsible for clearing snow and ice?
A snowy road in Sechelt Dec. 6
It's been an unusually snowy winter on the Sunshine Coast.

As yet another blanket of snow covered the Sunshine Coast, crews got back to work clearing the roads. 

Overnight, between Jan. 5 and 6, Environment Canada predicted 15 to 25 centimetres of snow. Much of the Coast woke up to snow-filled driveways as the frozen element lasted until it was cleared or washed away by later rains.

On social media, some residents asked why road clearing services seemed unprepared. But for the Capilano Highway Services, the company contracted by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI), the work from the late December storm had barely ended before the January storm hit.

Unusual winter

“The Sunshine Coast is not used to a winter like this. Our crews are out there doing our best and working 24 hours a day with lots of equipment that’s available to them,” Steve Drummond, the president of Capilano Highway Services, told Coast Reporter on Jan. 6. 

“It’s been all hands on deck… Our crews didn’t have a Christmas this year. They worked Christmas, they worked New Year’s. It’s been really tough on them, but that’s the job they’ve signed up for and they’ve done a marvelous job,” he said.

Contractors have been brought in from Squamish, staying multiple days at a time between Christmas and New Year’s, and equipment has been borrowed from the North Shore operations. 

“We’ve been throwing a lot of equipment at this, and more manpower,” he said.

Drummond said they’ve been lucky the Sunshine Coast crews have not had any COVID-19 issues. The Capilano crew is fully staffed up, he added, but hiring full-time staff on the Coast has been a challenge due in part to the housing situation.

The recent storms have brought some challenges for the Coast, as trees fell on power lines in some areas, preventing snow clearing efforts. Salt is also in short supply, because of extreme weather increasing the demand across the south coast of B.C. Drummond said the main suppliers are expecting more inventory in the next couple of weeks. 

Who clears what, where

All three of the governments responsible for snow clearing on the lower Coast have systems in place to identify the priority of their area’s roads. 

“Winter maintenance is prioritized, with highways addressed first, followed by main provincial side roads and secondary provincial roads,” the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said in a statement to Coast Reporter. “With successive snow events, it may take the contractor some time to get to secondary roads.”

After the highway, Capilano Highway Services focuses on bus routes and school zones. Third, they take care of all the side roads within the contract area. On the Coast, many of these roads are steep and winding, which Drummond said can be “a challenge” and they try to get to side roads within a day. 

“If it starts snowing again, it resets the clock and we’ve got to focus on the highway,” he said. “So it’s been challenging because it’s been nonstop. There’s only been a few days where we’ve been able to try and catch up.”

Drummond said ahead of snowfall, Capilano’s crews check the equipment and resources like salt to make sure it’s all prepared and that there are no mechanical issues. Going into a week with a snowstorm, Capilano Highway Services will change shift patterns and extend hours to make sure there are enough people to cover the entire storm.

On Jan. 4, the Sunshine Coast Regional District posted on Facebook to remind residents the SCRD is “not responsible for road maintenance or plowing in the rural areas of Pender Harbour/Egmont, Halfmoon Bay, Roberts Creek, Elphinstone and West Howe Sound,” and redirected questions to Capilano Highway Services. In the post, the SCRD recommended following winter road tips from

While the SCRD roads and Highway 101 fall under the provincial government’s responsibility, the municipalities’s public works departments must clear snow and ice from non-highway roads in the District of Sechelt and Town of Gibsons. The two municipalities have somewhat similar snow removal policies. 

In Gibsons

Gibsons identifies its priority roads as A, B, and C (maps of these roads can be found at Priority A Roads in Gibsons include bus routes, steep through-roads and roads leading to health-care facilities. Priority B Roads are the remaining arterial and collector roads, but do not include dead-end segments. The final category includes any other Gibsons roads. Gibsons is also responsible for clearing the sidewalks surrounding any properties owned or operated by the Town, within 72 hours of snowfall stops.

Town staff from the public works, parks, water and wastewater departments are trained in snow removal and salting, and can work at any hour of the day. 

“In the last few weeks, the crews have done an amazing job at being available out of their regular working hours to plow and salt,” Gracelyn Shannon, the Town’s manager of maintenance and operations said in an email. Gibsons has two plows and some additional equipment for sidewalks and parking lots. 

In an email bulletin, the Town of Gibsons asked residents to consider shovelling sidewalks for neighbours who are unable to do so. The Jan. 5 email also noted the Town’s supply of road salt is running low and the spreading of sand may be considered to help with traction on roads.

In Sechelt

The District of Sechelt has between seven and nine staff monitoring the weather and ready to respond within an hour of snow sticking to the ground. Of the five snowplows at the District’s disposal, two are dump truck style and three are one-tonne trucks. 

“The District of Sechelt snow removal team works incredibly hard, long hours during snow events,” Lindsay Vickers, Sechelt’s manager of communications, told Coast Reporter. 

Sechelt roads are likewise cleared in order of priority. First, major arterial streets, school and transit bus routes, roads to Sandy Hook, Tuwanek and Davis Bay, commercial and steep roads are cleared. Then collector roads in residential neighbourhoods receive service. Local streets and other areas are responded to as needed once the first two categories are complete. Gravel roads cannot be plowed, since they damage the plows’ blades. (Find more information at

A brine solution is also applied to Sechelt’s municipal roads when they are expected to freeze, as salt will not activate when temperatures dip below -8 degrees Celsius. 

Resident responsibilities

When snow falls, there are several responsibilities that land on the shoulders of residents. Property owners must clear snow and ice from all sidewalks bordering their property, and do so by 10 a.m. after a snowfall or before snow accumulates 10 centimetres in the Town of Gibsons. 

Businesses are also required to clear snow and ice from sidewalks next to their properties.

Vickers said the number one tip is to use snow tires, or avoid roads during the first few hours of snowfall so the crews can quickly and efficiently clear snow. Residents can also lay salt before snow starts to help prevent it from accumulating on driveways.

When on the road

Drummond of Capilano Highway Services said drivers should be sure to drive for the conditions - and never pass a snowplow. 

“I was out in a plow this morning, and cars go roaring by you,” he said. “It's safer behind me. Even though the plows drive a lot slower than the cars than the speed limit, we were trying to make the highway safe and it’s safer behind us rather than in front of us.”

He also recommended having emergency supplies in your vehicle and making sure your cell phone is fully charged.

MOTI recommends drivers check DriveBC for the most up-to-date highway travel information, before going out in winter conditions.