A brief history of that thing waking you up every morning in Edmonton / by Tim Querengesser

If you've ever been woken by a leaf-blower at 3:45 a.m. — which happens often in Edmonton as our city encourages snow-clearing workers to use these machines at all hours rather than asking them to shovel — you may ponder how we got here. 

How, you may think as you lay in the darkness, awake, at 3:45 a.m., did the leaf blower come to be Edmonton's 100-decibel carbon shovel. And how, in turn, how did I lose my right to sleep?

Well, first, let's consider a brief history of the leaf blower.

Writers in the emerging leaf-blower genre of reportage and thinkpieces have noted, accurately, that the tragedy of the leaf blower is that, “it makes assholes of us all ...

The always reliable source of the internet claims the first use of pressurized air to move leaves on the ground was in the 1800s, in Japan. It seems the modern interpretation of the leaf blower appeared in the 1950s, and the implement — using the crude, polluting, noisy two-stroke engine — was originally designed to spray chemicals onto crops, not blow leaves around, or snow. 

People being people, though, and shovelling snow being the worst sort of soul-sucking manual labour other than digging ditches (I say this having grown up in the 'snowbelt' in Ontario and shovelling my share of white hell, as well as ditches), one day some guy (he was likely a lazy guy, let's be brutally honest here) faced a snowy walkway and thought, 'What if I just aim my leaf blower at that?'

The rest is history. We've been blowing ever since. "Progress," some would call it.

The thing about progress, procedures and rules, though, as Kafka taught us, is that they can sometimes promote behaviour that isn't all that human. With this can come indifferent shoulder-shrugging from bureaucracies.

Take 3:45 a.m. wake-ups from leaf-blower racket, as has come to be my norm in west Oliver. The city response to the my complaints about the noise of laziness waking me and other residents? Shoulder shrug. 

Indifference means our city actively promotes snow-clearing workers to use leaf blowers that produce 100 decibels of noise (that's roughly the same as a jackhammer, by the way) at all hours of the day.

Now, you or I aren't allowed to use a leaf blower to clear our private patches of snow at 3:45 a.m. Noise bylaws prohibit us from making a big, loud, droning noise (say, that created by a dirty, smokey two-stroke motor powering a leaf blower) outside of the hours people are expected to be awake.

But if you're a landscape company contracted to clear snow from a company's front steps, by all means, the city says, by making exemptions to their noise bylaws, feel free to use that leaf blower at 3:45 a.m., or 4 a.m., or whenever, really.

The result for those of us who don't live in quiet suburbia but in urban settings where businesses and residences are stacked together, is essentially Leaf Blowers Gone Wild: Edmonton edition

Now, you may have gathered that I'm in the anti camp when it comes to leaf blowers. It's a growing camp. And in said camp we use shovels and rakes. We also sleep well and at least one of us is a famous pianist who's just sick of leaf blowers. 

We're also good people, we anti-blowers. Writers in the emerging leaf-blower genre of reportage and thinkpieces have noted, accurately, that the tragedy of the leaf blower isn't the noise but that, "it makes assholes of us all ..." 

Indeed. All people and organizations using or condoning the use of leaf blowers to blow snow, at 3:45 a.m. in Edmonton, are behaving, more or less, like civic assholes. They are that guy, that annoying guy, that annoying guy with that f***ing leaf blower. 

The anti-blower camp is mostly asshole free and it's a growing thing. In California, where they don't have much snow, many communities are speaking back to the leaf-blower racket

I don't think we'll ever ban leaf blowers in Edmonton. We could ban when we use them, though. We could make producing 100 decibels of noise between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., when other options (like shovels) exist, to be something you can be fined for.

Will we? I'd bet very little on that.