There’s Snow Business Like Shoveling

By Vicky Sanderson • Toronto Star

The recent mix of mild and cold weather may have created a very un-Canadian feeling that snow removal won’t be a big worry this year.

But before you relax too much, let’s not forget that snowy January in 1999 when then-Toronto mayor Mel Lastman called in the army to help dig out from a massive storm.

The message – don’t count out the white stuff just yet.

And when it does come, are you ready? Here’s a quick primer on ways to get rid of the accumulated snow and what it costs.

Local help

In most neighbourhoods, there’s at least one young snow removal entrepreneur. In north Willowdale, for example, Jay Rose, 15, has been clearing local driveways for the past five winters. Using a snow blower, Rose charges between $10 and $15 per call and has plenty of customers. Teens providing this service can often be found through notices on supermarket, community centre and church bulletin boards. The going rate for the job around the GTA seems to fluctuate between $10-$20.

Go pro

Don’t have the time or energy to deal with snow clearing? It’s not too late to hire a professional. Many landscaping companies across the GTA also offer snow removal for residential clients. While contracts typically run from mid-November to mid-April, some are still taking customers.

How much it costs will vary, depending on the size of your drive, its slope and whether you want sidewalks and porches cleared as well, says Mark Lawee, owner of Land Pride Group Inc., which provides landscaping, snow removal and construction services to residential and commercial customers.

For homeowners considering hiring a snow removal service, Lawee warns against choosing the lowest bidder. A fee that sounds too good to be true could indicate that the company doesn’t carry the necessary insurance to protect itself – and its customers – against liability.

“Unfortunately, it’s an unregulated industry,” says Lawee, “and there are some fly-by-nighters and part-timers who are questionable. I’ve heard of cases where the customer paid up front, and then when the snow began to fly, no one showed up.”

Lawee estimates that fees can range from about $300 for a season to about $150 a month. It costs a lot, he says, to provide insured reliable workers who will show up promptly after a snowfall.

Do it yourself

Mark Ypelaar runs the family-owned Luke’s Mower and Machine in Etobicoke, which has been selling snow blowers for close to 40 years. He’s got lots of tips on what to look for when buying one. There are two basic machine types, says Ypelaar; one-stage and two-stage throwers. The former usually has an auger and rubber paddles that pick up the snow and send it through a chute. A two-stage thrower has a front-end auger that guides the snow into a chute before a high-speed fan blows it out. The latter can process more snow, faster.

Typical users in the GTA handling smaller amounts of snow should be fine with a one-stage thrower. Users in the snowbelt, or with very large driveways, might be wise to opt for a two-stage thrower. In terms of horsepower, Ypelaar suggests that typical homeowners should choose a machine with a five-horsepower engine.

Prices vary widely. Toro has a popular line of models with various price points, including a single-stage model with a 98-cc Tecumseh engine, a 41-centimetre clearing width and a 7.6-metre throw distance for about $600. At the upper end, it offers a two-stage model with a 318-cc Tecumseh engine, 71-centimetre clearing width and 14-metre throwing distance for about $2,700. They also make a lightweight electric shovel/broom that’s been getting good reviews. It has a 30-centimetre clearing width, throws snow up to six metres and sells for about $170.

For information on the safe use of snow throwers, visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) at

Do it yourself – unplugged

Shovelling snow the old-fashioned way is an excellent workout, although doctors advise people with serious back problems or a history of heart disease to avoid strenuous shovelling. If you do shovel your own snow, CCOHS suggests using a lightweight shovel of about 1.5 kg with a handle long enough that you don’t have to stoop. Choose a plastic or wood grip over metal, which will quickly get cold.

Canadian Tire sells a basic 69-centimetre plastic snow shovel under the Yardworks brand for about $18. It has a 28.5-centimetre blade, a 107-centimetre shaft and a plastic d-grip handle.

For urban homeowners, Malcolm Frisker, owner of Sunnybrook Home Hardware on Bayview Ave., suggests choosing one of the Home-branded line of shovels, which have blades ranging in size from 25 to 61 centimetres, and in price from about $9 to $25. For those who want to take extra care of their back, Home sells a Garant Ergonomic shovel with 18- and 24-inch blades, starting at about $28.

The Wovel (see our cover photo) adds a new twist to the snow shovel by adding a wheel.

This helps the user push snow more easily and use leverage to lift and throw it. Its makers claim that the Wovel clears snow more easily than conventional shovels and reduces the risk of back pain and heart strain. Available at Home Depot for about $150.