Canada

Mosquitoes to bite it in Winnipeg

The city is mounting an unprecedented war on the perennial plague

BRIAN BERGMAN May 20 2002
Canada

Mosquitoes to bite it in Winnipeg

The city is mounting an unprecedented war on the perennial plague

BRIAN BERGMAN May 20 2002

Mosquitoes to bite it in Winnipeg

Canada

The city is mounting an unprecedented war on the perennial plague

BRIAN BERGMAN

As predictable as that first inadvertent sunburn, a sure sign of Canadian summer is the annual dispatch detailing Winnipeg’s latest mosquito scourge. The national media, having ignored the Manitoba capital for the rest of the year, gleefully report on the travails of city residents as they flee indoors to escape the bloodthirsty hordes. One example: for the last three summers in a row, CTV News anchor Lloyd Robertson has featured items on the mosquito wars, usually as the “brightener” at the end of his nightly newscast. In one instance, the reporter was unkind enough to suggest visitors to Winnipeg “spent more time soaking up bug spray than the local culture.” Winnipeggers, it seems, have had enough. Armed with an unprecedented $900,000 war bond from the provincial government, the City of Winnipeg is launching an all-out assault on the despised skeeters. The idea is to search out and destroy the enemy in its birthing place in pools and ditches before it has a chance to propagate. At a recent news conference announcing the funding, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer spoke with Churchillian resolve of the task ahead. “We want to breed more success eliminating mosquitoes,” he intoned, “rather than having mosquitoes breed because we are not doing anything.”

The campaign, known technically as “larviciding,” is being waged with military precision. City helicopter crews map out potential targets of standing water. Various insecticides will then be sprayed on these sites, either by air or by nearly 100 ground

troops deployed on a quadrant-by-quadrant basis to wipe out the larvae before they hatch. If successful, the city hopes to reduce, or even eliminate, the use of an even stronger chemical, malathion, which it typically sprays later in the summer to kill adult mosquitoes—a procedure known, in soldierly fashion, as “toxic fogging.”

Leading the charge is Randy Gadawski, an entomologist and the city’s chief skeeter-buster. A long-time advocate of getting tough on the perennial pests, Gadawski speaks glowingly about the new arsenal at his disposal. This includes a “one-man spray gun” that can be attached to the front of a city truck and fired at will by a driver safely ensconced inside the vehicle.

Shades of Apocalypse Now. One imagines a gung-ho civic gunner surveying the killing fields and exclaiming: “I love the smell of larvicide in the morning.”

Is this really necessary? Civic officials swear it is. They point out that Winnipeg is home to 38 mosquito species—all of them with ravenous appetites. Around dusk on a bad day, Winnipeggers can expect to suffer up to eight bites per minute, more than any mere mortal should have to endure.

Still, my own summertime visits to the

city suggest the problem is exaggerated— and that Winnipeggers may be responding more to the national needling than the occasional nuisance itch. Then again, I hail from Edmonton where, but for the grace of its own pre-emptive insecticide strikes, the city would surely rival Winnipeg as Canada’s mosquito capital. I also lived for a time in Yellowknife where, quite frankly, residents consider southerners positively wimpish in this regard. Mosquitoes?Sure we got ’em, and in spades. But you want a real plague? Try stopping your truck on the dusty road to Hay River and see how long it takes before swarms of black flies make it impossible to see out your windshield.

I’ll continue visiting Winnipeg in the summertime whether or not the skeeter war is a success. Truth be told, the city, in that season at least, is one of Canadas bestkept secrets: long, warm nights that are far more bearable than the humid coffins of Toronto and Montreal and far less annoying than the fickle patterns of Calgary, where a plus-30 July evening can presage snow in the morning. If Winnipeg’s civic fathers really want to tackle an albatross, maybe they could do something about those bone-rattling winds that whip down Portage and Main for months on end every winter. Try inventing a spray for that. EH