Sunday, January 28, 2007

I've never seen this before

Metro Montréal - Laval
Issued at: 9.07 PM EST Sunday 28 January 2007
Smog warning in effect.
Tonight..Clear. Low minus 20.
Monday..Sunny. Wind becoming west 20 km/h late in the morning. High minus 12.
Monday night..Clear. Low minus 20.
That is the weather report for Montreal and surrounding areas. It's -20C, and they have smog. The reason is that many homes in rural Quebec are still heated with wood stoves. Does this happen in the U.S. - in winter? I've always thought that Canada is about one generation behind the U.S. in terms of material prosperity.

I remember watching the news back in the 90s, a big story about "Poverty in America!!!" To demonstrate the horrific, shameful poverty still existing in America, a TV crew managed to find a home somewhere in the backwoods of Mississippi that had (gasp) NO RUNNING WATER. I was indignant - what was the shame in that? My uncle's farm in Alberta never had running water, and they lived there until the 80s, when he retired, sold the whole place and the farmhouse was abandoned. And he was a respectable, stable farmer, not some tragic disaster story. There was water from a well, and an outhouse, and many, many rural homes were like that. It just seemed to me that what was normal to us in Canada in the 80s, was normal in the U.S. back in the 50s or so.


Blogger Dr. Alice said...

In answer to your question: yes, it can happen. The Denver metropolitan area no longer allows wood-burning fireplaces for exactly this reason; they all have to be natural gas.

A couple years ago, I was helping a friend clean out the apartment of an elderly aunt who had died. This woman saved everything; we came across a census form from 1960 which asked, among other questions, "Does your home have indoor plumbing?"

So it's not impossible. In some isolated Western areas such as Montana and other states, out in the countryside it wasn't unusual not to have indoor plumbing up until the 1960's or 1970's.

10:27 am  
Blogger Nasty, Brutish & Short said...

Fascinating. I can tell you that growing up in the country in Ohio 25 years ago, we had one neighbor (a farming family) who had not gotten indoor plumbing until a generation before I arrived. So that would have been 40-50 years ago, and it was news 25 years ago that they had been so behind the times. They were wealthy though--the privy had arched windows with leaded glass, and was a two-seater (no privacy). The farmhouse (a huge, beautiful brick building) has since been bought and renonovated by the CEO of a bank, who's restored the privy and built a pool house that matches the privy's architecture.

As for using wood as a heat source, of course that is pretty common in Ohio in the winter, but not as a primary heat source. Usually it is just as an additive to gas or electic, to keep bills down etc. etc. I am sure there are places in rural Ohio today where wood burning fireplaces are the only source of heat, but this would be in such isolated places that there would never be enough smoke to cause smog problems. It would dissipate too quickly

In the city of course, you have the problem of hauling firewood in, too. Frankly, it's expensive and a pain in the neck to bring it in in mass quantities to more urban areas. In Canada, firewood is much more readily available, I'm sure.

10:28 am  
Blogger Elvid said...

Sounds like a rather citified approach to winter heating.
When someone has their own bit of forest, I really don't see it as a mark of poverty to use your own wood.
With wood/oil combination furnaces, with all kinds of electronics on them, running at several thousand dollars to install, certainly not your great-grandfather's wood stove or fireplace.
Definitely a cost saving of several thousand dollars per year if you have your own wood which doesn't include the benefits of physical activity involved with cutting and stacking it and a preference that many people have for the heat from a wood stove.
As for inside plumbing, most places in my neck of the woods had pre-World War II. Same with hydro.
And the outdoor privy was not uncommon in a lot of North American or British ciities even in the 1920's.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

NBS, elvid, you're both quite right - out in the country, people cut their own trees for firewood, and don't pay for it the way we city folk do. (Here in Ottawa, a face cord costs $95Cdn this year.) When I'm out at a farm auction, half the time they're selling stored firewood too, and sometimes there's as much as 20 full cords stashed in a barn! It's just that it gets VERY cold here, and even with all the efficiency of modern stoves, it takes a lot of wood to heat a home over the winter. And I suppose a lot of attention to keep feeding the fire, though no doubt it's not as much as me with my inefficient little living room fireplace, which is mostly for show. I think that's why they were having smog in southern Quebec - it had gotten so cold, the amount of wood being burned had gone up, and finally the smoke was enough to create smog.

One upside of all this, though, was when the giant Ice Storm hit about 10 years ago (and it affected northern New England too) the people out in the country were better able to cope with the lengthy power failure because they were self-supplied with heat. In the cities, people had to leave their homes because it was so cold and without electricity they couldn't keep warm.

8:25 am  

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