Tag Archives: The Canadian winter

Ode to the frigid joys of a frosty evening


I must admit, I have never been a big fan of winter. Now that it is upon me, as inevitably as a snow plow in a nor’easter comes to wreck the foot of my driveway after solid hours of diligent shoveling, I am loathe to sing its praises even to my impossibly cheerful grandsons and granddaughters who need only toboggans and cups of hot chocolate to keep them deliriously happy.

I am more likely to cleave to Shakespeare (“Now is the winter of our discontent”) or Robert Byrne (“Winter is nature’s way of saying, ‘Up yours’”) than to Paul Theroux (“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation”) or, heaven forbid, William Blake (“In seed time, learn; in harvest, teach; in winter, enjoy”).

Yeah, well listen up Billy B., I ain’t half done me own learnin’, let alone harvesting. And don’t even talk to me about enjoying anything. I’m far too young for that fatuous folderol.

And yet. . .

A year ago to the day – this day – my wife and I were scheduled to fly into La Guardia and then commence what was to be a wonderful, middle-aged adventure exploring lower Manhattan on foot.

Only, winter got in the way. Flights from Calgary to Halifax were canceled. Every airport along the northeastern seaboard was, for days, shut down, covered under blankets of snow and sheets of frozen rain.

In fact, last winter turned out to be the longest, coldest, most intractable in 50 years (or so the cab drivers in Moncton reliably informed us as they rushed, almost daily, to our rescue).

I cursed the fools who boasted about their snow mobiles and blowers – the ones who couldn’t stop chattering about the next, big blow from the polar vortex, the ones who took perverse delight in the worst possible weather.

I steeled myself to the unavoidable, grittily clearing my walkways and paths of ice and crunch, believing that my labours would somehow presage an early and blessedly warm spring, full of green shoots and buds.

Then, one atypically bright day, my eldest grandson arrived with his father for a visit. They surveyed the product of my efforts and concluded that the banks I had created around the house were sufficiently high to embark on a classically Canadian wintertime project.

“Poppy,” the young one said with the fearless certitude of every five-year-old on the planet, “We need to make a snow fort.”

“Well,” I moaned, slightly, “maybe later, okay?”

“Oh no,” he insisted. “We have to do it now, before it all melts.”

I looked at the outdoor thermometer. It read 10-below. But I also knew I wasn’t going to win this argument.

And so we began with shovels and buckets and breaks for juice and water. We dug and plowed and burrowed until the sun went down and long after.

His Dad helped with big, lurching heaves of icy boulders and fine, craftsmanlike carvings into the walls of the forming network of latticed snow caves.

When we were done, long after everyone’s bedtime, we lay there for a piece under the ceiling our efforts, hope and imagination had created under the great black bowl of the Milky Way.

Then, it all came down on us in one great, calamitous bump. Snow, once the enemy, had become the blanket that covered us all as we joyfully shoved chunks of it down the fronts and backs of our parkas and ran like wild animals, screaming into the dark, suddenly soft and warm night.

It’s 2 am as I write this, and I am looking at the spot where we built Casa Bruce last year. The ground is frozen, but snow is conspicuously absent. I check my weather app, which tells me that Christmas, this year, might well be green.

Still, I don’t mind, as I wait to welcome my grandchildren for the holidays. We’ll make do. We’ll have fun. That’s what they always manage to teach me.

After all, as Anton Chekov once said, “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”

As for me and Albert Camus, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”


An immigrant’s guide to the Great White North


Dear newcomer, from a warm part of the world, rest assured that Canada is a safe and happy place. Our national statistics agency reliably assures us that we boast among the lowest crime rates in the G20, the highest “happiness” index in the developed world, and the greatest per capita consumption of mindless TV shows and comfort food in the modern era.

Now, about our annual deep freeze.

No doubt you caught a piece the other day in this country’s self-anointed national organ of news and popular opinion. The headline, if I’m not mistaken, was: “Teaching Immigrants to endure – even embrace – Canadian winters.”

The front-page Globe and Mail article by Ingrid Peritz went a little something like this: “Pauline Perrotte stood before her class and asked her pupils, all newcomers to Canada, what kinds of rumours they’d heard about Canadian winters.”

It should be said, of course, the Ms. Perrotte is an expat from the south of France who alighted on these frigid shores barely a year ago to teach immigrants how to cope with the Great White North’s signature season. “People hear about blizzards and ice storms, and they start worrying about their families and children,” she declared. “We try to reassure them, tell them that winter is a magnificent season and that adjusting to it is part of their integration.”

None of which stopped a woman from Iran, in her class, from fretting: “You need to wear eye glasses, because your eyes can freeze.”

Another emoted: “It’s as cold as a refrigerator.”

No, objected a fellow pupil from Mauritius, “It’s colder.”

As a seventh-generation Canadian who knows all about the weather of this northern-most reach of the “New World”, I’ll take each of these concerns in reverse order.

Mr. Mauritius, Canadian winters are certainly not colder than a refrigerator. They are colder than the vacuum of space that surrounds the robotic probe somebody just landed on a comet orbiting the sun the other day. And, my friend, darker. . .much darker.

Ms. Perrotte, winter here is not “a magnificent season.”

Indeed, despite what you’ve heard (or been propagandized to instruct), eight or nine months of the year, in which frozen rain, snow, sleet, ice pellets, and drenching slop fall for hours, days and, sometimes, weeks on end, cannot reasonably compare with. . .well, Cuba.

I like Cuba. In February, Cuba is a friend of mine. I imagine I’ll go there one day when my neighbour’s snow blower doesn’t blow a pin, or my back doesn’t prevent me from boarding a plane that’ll get delayed or cancelled thanks to. . .you guessed it. . .the Canadian winter.

As for the woman from Iran who thought glasses would protect her eyeballs from freezing, think again dearie. Frozen pins and cones in the thick of the white is practically a brand statement at Quebec City’s winter carnival (spectacles, notwithstanding).

Having dispelled the rumours and myths about our finest season, here’s a little more advice, anecdotal though it may be, to warm the cockles of your hearts in this black-side-of-the-moon season.

Never throw away your Halloween pumpkins. Simply repurpose them as creepy heads to top your several dozen snowmen. When spring arrives, sometime in July, pop them off, peel them down and cut them up. The soup is terrific. Trust me.

Likewise, never look a crappy mountain bike in the tires. For budget-savvy Canadians, these puppies are godsends. You can pick them up, for a song, at any police auction, ride the bejeezus out of them all winter long, save yourself a fortune in gas, and when that first breath of spring comes wafting in, abandon them in a Walmart parking lot where snow ploughs are sure to bury them under a small mountain of grey slush and ice. In due course, they will emerge, like rusty daffodils, to find their way to yet another police auction.

Hey, babies. . .in Canada, we’re all about the recycling.

The bottom line, newcomers, is that there is a way to survive the Canadian winter.

Tough out the cold and the dark, knowing that the warmth and the light is just a calendar flick or two away.

After all, the summers are our best two months of the year, especially if you’re fond of mosquitos.

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