© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Arnold Stewart, front second from left, poses with brothers, nephews and sons that all followed in his snowplowing shoes. Front row left to right are Glenn, Arnold, Gary and Byron. Back row left to right are Blair, Nick and Kent. Collectively, this clan have plowed roads for 194 years.
Clearing snow has been a family tradition for Crapaud clan
Some are said to have ice in their veins.
In the case of the Stewart clan, they must have snow in the blood. Make that snowplowing in their hearts.
Arnold Stewart, the patriarch of the plowers, got rolling in 1958 at age 17 in a practice that would grow into a familial way of life.
Collectively, Stewart, along with two brothers, two sons and two nephews, has pushed snow off P.E.I. roads for 194 years.
Getting the gang together in a room to talk about the trade, colourful stories fly as fast as the fluffy stuff shooting off the blade of a plow from a heavy truck thundering along a snow-covered highway.
There was the time a woman gave birth in a car that was being towed by a then 20-year-old Arnold Stewart in his snowplow as he was just approaching the hospital.
“It was quite a thing,’’ he recalled as brothers Byron and Gary, sons Glenn and Blair, and nephews Kent and Nick listened in.
Then there was Kent one-upping that story, telling of being forced to react in a split second as a car cut in front of his plow in the slush. Kent’s plow sliced off the front corner of the vehicle and his vehicle ended up in a ditch.
The car’s occupants — man, woman and baby — were shaken up but emerged from the sharp jolt without a scratch.
Gary once drove a snowplow into a brook in Canoe Cove. He was not hurt, but getting the rig back on the road was a major job.
Another member of the Stewart Snow Squad, while out clearing roads, came upon a couple in a stationary vehicle. The occupants were not dressed for winter. In fact, they were not dressed at all.
Of all the misadventures and upsides in his storied snowplowing career, 73-year-old Arnold Stewart of Crapaud most fondly remembers the 15 days he and his sons spent in 1999 helping plow Torontonians out from under a major snowstorm.
In total, 115 Islanders took part in the mission. For his part, Arnold oversaw a large group of private contractors.
“That was the biggest experience of my life,’’ he says. “They gave us a great big party when we left.’’
Arnold’s plowing days ended several years ago. His younger brothers have also parked the plow.
Gary, 57, says he stopped a couple years ago because his legs could no longer take the pounding.
Byron, 68, stopped five years ago after putting in an impressive 35-year run. He says the toughest part of the job was when his plow would break down in a storm, sending him out into the bitter cold running for the nearest farmhouse.
Gary, who can recall driving a snowplow for 24 hours straight, shivers at the memory of sitting for two or three hours in a broken down plow “freezing my butt.’’
The downside of snowplowing extends beyond aches and chills, though.
Glenn says hours upon hours spent at the wheel, plowing snow and navigating sometimes less than sensible motorists, can cause plenty of stress and tension.
Still, the seven Stewarts were certainly not looking for pity when they sat down to talk about snowplowing. They love what they do — or in the case of Arnold and his brothers, what they used to do.
“It’s in your blood,’’ says Arnold. “It’s something you like...it comes winter, you want to go plowing.’’
Blair says as boys he and his brother Glenn would ride with their father, Arnold, as dad hit the highway in his snowplow.
“Dad would say ‘sit down and don’t complain — we’re going to be gone for awhile,’’’ he says.
“We never thought we were learning but we were,’’ adds Blair. “We knew what we were going to be when we were five.’’
Glenn and Blair do not have any sons and none of their daughters are showing much enthusiasm for snowplowing.
Nick has a four-year-old son who has hopped along for some short trips in the plow. Could the youngster grow into the next generation of Stewart snow pushers?
“If he does it, it will be great,’’ says Nick.
Arnold is proud of the legacy to date. He beams when speaking of the talent his clan displays behind the wheel.
“They are very capable,’’ he says.
Glenn says his brother and his cousins are competitive. They like to see who can finish their route first. They also keep a keen eye on the Weather Channel each day in the winter to see if they will likely soon be hitting the road and if they will be, just how much plowing may lie ahead.
When the roads are clear and the snow is no longer flying, the Stewarts work on fixing and maintaining their mighty snow-clearing machines.
Of course, the boys have it easy these days when compared to Arnold’s harsh accounts of days long gone.
First, he notes, the snowplows are much better machines today. Also, back in the day, the snow just kept coming and coming and coming.
“There was an awful lot more snow then,’’ says Arnold of the days in the late '50s and early '60s when he was stationed in Elmsdale to clear roads. “Storms were three days (long) those times.’’