Susan McVarish could hardly believe it when her phone rang Monday morning and a complete stranger told her he was coming over to chop through the solid, ice-chunked windrows covering her East Kildonan boulevard path and blocking her garage.
She had called the city’s 311 line twice over the weekend, only to be told the city’s policy is that windrow removal is the responsibility of the home owner.
At age 65 with an osteoporosis-related injury and living with her 88-year-old mom who uses a walker, McVarish said she and her mom felt like "a prisoner" in their own house on Helmsdale Avenue.
"I’m excited and I’m free at last!" said an overjoyed McVarish on Monday. "You know, honestly, this is unbelievable. The phone rang this morning, this guy says, ‘Are you the one that was in the paper?’ He says, ‘Me and my buddies are going to come over and help you out.’ There’s two of them, they’ve got pick axes and shovels, they worked away at the back. Then Mom’s in her walker and she says, ‘There’s four of them out there now!’"
Murray Greenley, 62, said he read McVarish’s story in Monday’s Free Press and decided to take action. Joining him were Ken Miller, 61, and Rick Veale, 62, friends of Greenley’s for 50 years, and his neighbour Del Comerbach, 70.
"I had just talked to my neighbour and said, ‘I hope they don’t come down my back lane.’ I read the story, and I went, ‘Oh, s---, that doesn’t look very good.’ I’m retired, so I thought I could help her out," Greenley said. "I called my buddy Ken and another really good buddy was just walking through the door. I said, ‘What are you and Rick doing?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ So I said, ‘Get out of your pajamas and meet me at Susan’s on Helmsdale’ and I called my neighbour Del, he’s been my neighour for 35 years. We just all help each other out. We all grew up in East Kildonan, so it wasn’t that far (to McVarish’s home)."
When the city scraped the streets to the pavement Thursday night, a metre-high windrow of hard-packed ice was preventing her from accessing the street and a half-metre windrow across her garage approach had her car trapped inside the garage. Home care, visiting three times per day to assist her mom, was having trouble accessing the property and McVarish was worried about how medical assistance would reach them if they had an emergency. Enter Greenley and his friends.
"All four of them working together, these guys were my age. It took them at least an hour and a half, four guys with pick-axes and shovels," McVarish said. "I made them some coffee afterward and we had a great visit."
She said she "so appreciated" a family member who had come out to help her Sunday night but he couldn’t chop through the windrow with just a shovel. In addition, six other individuals who had read McVarish’s story had contacted the Free Press and offered to come and chop through the windrows. But the Greenley crew had the job done.
"It was so thick, if it was me by myself, I would have given up. Or it would have taken me two days, for sure," Greenley said. "I just don’t understand. When you call 311 twice, you’re 65 and you’ve got an 88-year-old mother who needs care and Handi-Transit, I think the city could send a front-end loader out. They could clear that out of there in a few minutes."
More snow was expected Monday night - but only about two to four centimetres with a windchill of -26 C overnight.
"That has been the craziest day," McVarish said. "I’m shocked and just so grateful that complete strangers would do this."
Adding to her elation was that her pharmacist, Ken Zink of Ebbeling Pharmacy, told her to call him if it happens again and he’ll assist her.