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Crews clear snow from the steps in front of West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 17.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Cities across southern Ontario shut major highways and closed vaccination clinics, schools and libraries as the most snow in years fell over a broad swath of the province.

Toronto’s local transit agency, the most heavily used in the country, said at one point that “a majority” of its surface fleet was stuck in the snow. And even places such as Ottawa, which are known for their snowy winters, reported unusual dumps.

“It really walloped us pretty good,” Tim Tierney, city councillor and chair of Ottawa’s transportation committee, told a briefing, noting that the city has had snowfalls greater than 30 centimetres only twice in the past 14 years.

“We’re going full force. We’ve got our crews out and, as we mentioned, it will take a couple of days to clean out all areas.”

The storm also coincided with what had been expected to be the first day this month back in the classroom for Ontario school children. In-person classes were cancelled because of the weather but, instead of a snow day, online schooling resumed at most school boards.

Public weather alerts issued in Canada, by forecast region

As of Jan. 17

Legend

Snowfall

Blizzard

Winter storm

Other warning

Extreme cold

No warning issued

Que.

Ont.

Montreal

Ottawa

Toronto

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT CANADA

Public weather alerts issued in Canada, by forecast region

As of Jan. 17

Legend

Snowfall

Blizzard

Other warning

Winter storm

Extreme cold

No warning issued

Yukon

NWT

Nunavut

Alta.

Que.

B.C.

N.L.

Sask.

Man.

PEI

Ont.

N.B.

N.S.

Que.

Ont.

Montreal

Ottawa

Toronto

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT CANADA

Public weather alerts issued in Canada, by forecast region

As of Jan. 17

Que.

Ont.

Montreal

Ottawa

Yukon

Toronto

NWT

Nunavut

Alta.

B.C.

Sask.

N.L.

Man.

Que.

PEI

Ont.

N.B.

N.S.

Legend

Snowfall

Blizzard

Winter storm

Other warning

Extreme cold

No warning issued

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ENVIRONMENT CANADA

Roads were relatively quiet, as those who could work from home did so. In many jurisdictions, police advised against any non-essential travel.

“It was a good day to leave the car at home and I think tomorrow will be the same thing, and maybe even the next day after that,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told a briefing.

People help push a TTC bus that got stuck in deep snow on Mt. Pleasant Rd. in Toronto on Jan. 17.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

He announced that the city had received enough snow that it could not simply plough it but would have to remove it. To that end, he declared a special “snow condition” that would limit parking in certain areas. People whose cars impede snow removal may receive what’s called a “friendly tow” – the vehicle is not impounded but instead pulled out of the way of operations and left on a nearby street.

From Niagara to Ottawa, cities cancelled and modified municipal operations, including trash collection, community services and recreation facilities. Some, such as Hamilton, kept their vaccination clinics operating while others, including Toronto, shut theirs. Canada Post declared a service alert, suspending deliveries for the day.

In Toronto, police temporarily closed the two main urban highways and urged people to stay off the roads. Premier Doug Ford subsequently raised eyebrows by driving around his neighbourhood looking for people to help, doing a video interview with a local television station while at the wheel.

For those who were out, the roads were treacherous as ploughs failed to keep up with the fast-falling snow.

One doctor bound for a hospital north of Toronto reported spending four hours stuck in traffic. Some health care workers headed to Sunnybrook Hospital, in midtown, abandoned stuck vehicles and made their way on foot.

Social media quickly filled with images of cars and trucks sliding out of control, as well as stranded buses and streetcars.

The Toronto Transit Commission said in midafternoon that hundreds of its vehicles were stuck – more than half its fleet, according to the agency’s Twitter account, with a spokesman later amending the figure to 540 of the TTC’s 1,300 vehicles. One popular video on social media showed the passengers of a bus banding together to push it free of the snow.

“I just want to commend the transit staff for the fact that they kept the transit system going,” said Mayor Tory, who noted it is customary for TTC buses not be fitted with snow tires.

“It’ll be there tomorrow and it’ll be in better shape even tomorrow, as people might decide to use it instead of using their cars.”

The storm, which dropped more than 40 centimetres of snow in places, came as cities are also struggling with a COVID variant that has ripped through municipal work forces and reduced staffing. But spokespeople in a number of cities said that their response was unaffected by absences.

Toronto, Ottawa and Mississauga all said that COVID-related absences were a non-issue with those cities’ responses to the storm.

People shovels snow from in front of their Merton St. homes on Jan. 17.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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