Two weeks in Quebec in December/January was enough for me to remember all the things I hate about winter in Canada. I lived in the far north for nearly ten years, mostly in a tiny town called Atlin, 50km south of the Yukon border, and also in Whitehorse, Yukon. Like most of Canada, the winters there are long, dark and cold. After nearly ten years I was done, moved to Vancouver, and felt that if I ever saw snow again it would be too soon. Vancouver, and the city of Victoria on Vancouver Island, are kind of Canadian oases, and although the winters can be grey and wet there’s usually very little snow, and even less of the extremely cold temperatures.

So although I was looking forward to seeing my family again I wasn’t looking forward to the weather.

Here’s what I hate about extremely cold winters. I say “extremely cold” for the sake of my Australian, and other warm-climate readers who have no idea really what it’s like to be in 20 below or colder for weeks on end. Static! Everything is static and all your clothes cling to you. All the time. Endlessly putting on and taking off layers and layers of clothing to be warm enough, hopefully, outside, and comfortable enough, hopefully, inside. But still there’s the issue of long johns and winter boots, which are a little harder to shed in a café so your legs and feet just kind of burn up. Bad hair days. Every day! For one thing your hair is always static. For another it doesn’t matter what you do with it to try to look a bit stylish as soon as you go outside you have to pull on a toque (a wooly or fleece hat) and/or hood so it immediately gets flattened anyway. And then you go in again and take off the toque and the static has its way. Oh joy. And driving. The roads are always covered in slop, or worse, snow, or worse still, ice, and treacherous whether you’re walking or driving. Worst of all is when the rain freezes as it hits the ground and then it’s like driving on a skating rink. Yeah, driving on icy roads. Never did warm to that one. Oh and it’s really, really dry so your skin starts to crack, especially on your fingers.

Phew! Guess I just had to get all that out of the way first because . . . . . . . .

We had an absolutely fabulous winter holiday! My sister Suzanne, and her daughter Sarah, and son-in-law, and their baby daughter, all live in Montreal. Her son-in-law’s mom lives in the little town of Ste Adele, about one hour’s drive north of Montreal. He also has a brother who has a wife, a young daughter and a baby son. Plus my sister Julie and her husband Robbie and their daughter Ellie came from Australia. We rented a spacious cottage in St Adele and the two families joined forces for a traditional Quebecois Christmas Eve celebration and a game of charades, and an almost traditional Australian Christmas day celebration, and lots of fun events in the snow.

Our first dinner together in Montreal

Robbie in the dining room of the cottage – look through the windows to the deck – covered in snow.

Christmas eve

Christmas day

Boxing day was a lazy at home day for some of us, and sledding for the more energetic. The day after that we went skiing. I hadn’t skied for at least fifteen years so I was interested to discover if I could still do it. I could, but with nothing like the speed and panache that I used to. Don doesn’t ski. At one point he stood at the bottom of the run I was skiing to take some photographs of me. He said I was easy to spot, as I was the slowest thing coming down the mountain. It’s true. I was. It reminds me of a line from a Leonard Cohen song “I ache in the places where I used to play”. Oh but still it was so fun to do it again, to at least try, even if I was slow and awkward. Sarah and Robbie were definitely the best skiers of the group and spent the afternoon together on the black diamond slopes at speeds I could only dream of.

Apres ski

Skiing was followed the next day by snowshoeing. Of the six of us who went only Suzanne had done it before, but it is easy and fun and we spent an hour or so stomping all over a snow covered golf course.

And the next day we all went for a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the snow. We wore layers and layers of clothing. It was about twenty below and we were just sitting so needed many layers to be warm enough. Only my hands were cold – by choice, as I wanted to wear lighter gloves so I could still use my camera. The batteries freeze up pretty quickly in those kinds of temperatures, but I had a spare that lasted long enough to get me through the day. It was just magical riding through the woods and across fields pulled along by the horses, complete with bells jingling – and yes we did sing the song! And so beautiful. For all my moaning about the cold weather, the exquisite beauty of the snow covered landscape fills me with joy. The sleigh ride was followed by a wonderful lunch in an extremely popular restaurant called Au Petit Poucet. We had to wait an hour to get a table but it was worth it.

We had many big gatherings for meals, some at home in our cottage, some out at local restaurants. Ellie made pancakes for breakfast, for all who wanted them, every morning. Ellie and Suzanne cooked dinner one night each. And all hail Robbie for cooking more than one fabulous dinner, and the Christmas turkey, and having a good time doing it! I was lazy and didn’t cook – but I did do some cleaning up. We also played many games. HU – a family general knowledge game. Charades. And Joe many times. Joe is a challenging card game. Don won twice! I would have won the last time we played but gave it away to Julie by making a BIG mistake. Oops. But after 5 games, at last, Julie got to win.

Julie’s photos

In the sleigh. Brrrrrrrrrr


Digging out the cars

Don looking like a skier

Apres ski

Finally it was time to return to Montreal where we continued with family gatherings for meals and games. And then I got a cold and stayed in bed for two days. Don went for a long walk to re-visit his old haunts at McGill University and climbed to the top of Mt Royal in the snow. Today I am feeling better, and today we fly back to Vancouver. We have a one-day turn around before heading to Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington for a semi-annual gathering of friends. When we return from that we have four days to prepare and pack before leaving on the next big leg of our adventure – two and a half months in south India, a month in Bali, and a month in Australia. The next post will probably be from India.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.