Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver - Gilles Vigneault's famous lyrics beautifully describe Québec. When it comes to stereotypes, everyone has heard horror stories about the merciless Canadian winter: temperatures drop far below -30 °C as the snow buries cities under its coat. So how does it feel, and moreover - how to survive it? Is there a way to get the most out of the Great White North in winter without freezing?
My Finnish friends have been extremely curious about winter in Canada. As on many other aspects, comparison (and at times, competition) between Finland and Canada reaches the weather conditions too. Finns are proud of their reputation as tough Nordics not being afraid of snow and cold (I'm not even going to mention Winter War here...), but the same frosty heritage runs in the veins of Canadians. Winter in Finland is cold, dark and seems never-ending, and same features apply to the Canadian equivalent.
Personally I have never enjoyed winter, and the idea of living through this very famous one scared me a little at first. I was not really afraid of the winter itself - I can handle the snow, the cold, the darkness too - but what baffled me in the beginning is the dryness of Canada. Finland, especially Helsinki, is extremely humid even during winter, and the cold is the kind of cold that gets into your bones and won't leave no matter how many layers of wool you wrap yourself into. No wonder I was slightly terrified of the upcoming winter after experiencing two extremely hot and dry Canadian summers. The Finnish humid winter is indeed cold, -20 °C at best, but the dry, crushing and insanely cold Canadian winter is something completely else.
The thing is, in Finland you cannot escape the cold, since the humidity brings the cold through all of
|Everything freezes in Canada - even windows.|
There is more of everything in Canadian winter compared to Finland. More snow, more cold, more chaos in the traffic, more clothes to protect you from frostbite, more windows so frozen that you have stopped to try and open them before spring. Many southern Finns will know what I mean when I say that the winter in here really IS a winter: the landscape gets covered in real snow and not in that slushy grey thing like in Helsinki. The cold is intense, but a very well welcomed change to those oddly warm winter days during the last few years in Finland. And most important of all: unlike in Finland, Canada is located remotely south and is not suffering from the never-ending darkness as badly as my home country. In other words, Canada makes me want to spend time outside, even in winter!
|Parc du Bois-de-Coulonge in Québec City|
MY WINTER ACTIVITIES IN QUÉBEC
1. Ice skating in the forest in Domaine de la Forêt Perdue
Website: Domaine de la Forêt Perdue
Skating is fun, but it's even more fun when you can do it on little icy roads in a forest maze. This domain offers over 12 kilometres of roads to skate, and skates are included in the 26$ entry fee. It was my first time on hockey skates, so it took me a while to get to fully enjoy the experience, but in the end we ended up spending the whole day trying to see everything there was to see in the forest.
The place is actually a farm, so there are many animals to greet as you skate on, from emus to goats and alpacas. Here is one:
Quebeckers seem to be extremely good at skating though, so be prepared to be outrun by 7-year old kids. Seriously, are they born with hockey skates on? Or is there something in the water?
2. Actually, ice skating pretty much anywhere - while watching hockey
Canada is all about hockey, but I'm brave enough to cheer for my home team and say that especially quebeckers seem to have born with the blood of Maurice Richard running in their veins. That is how I at least feel like as I paddle on in the snow around the city: there are ice rinks everywhere, and they're crowded with people from toddlers to elders.
Hockey is shown everywhere in Québec, so do not count on being able to escape it into a fancy restaurant - if there's a TV anywhere close, there will be ice hockey on it.
3. Evacuating yourself indoors in Old Québec's shops and cafés
|La Boutique de Noël de Québec|
Quebeckers are the masters of maple syrup, 80% of Canada's maple syrup being produced in the province of Québec. That's why you can be sure to find all kinds of hot drinks from hot chocolates to lattes flavoured with maple syrup, and you won't even have to look for it - they will come for you. Old Québec has a few very picturesque cafés, my favourite one being La Maison Smith. The staff also seems to speak excellent English, since most customers around always seem to be English-speakers. And since we're in Québec, do not forget bars and microbreweries. I have personally spent more than enough time in La Korrigane drinking delicious but treacherously strong dark beers to save myself from the frost.
Keeping your beanie on indoors is a funny fashion trend I've observed while spending time in various bars and cafés of Québec. Especially girls seem to be keen on wearing a hat, possibly to avoid getting their hair all messed up. The static in Canada feels far worse that in Finland due to dry air (yours truly gets an electric shock from a fridge at work approximately 3 times a day), so no wonder local ladies prefer to save themselves from the trouble.
4. Just going outside and enjoying the chaos
The chaos in Canada is brought by the amount of snow, since there can easily be a meter of it. At this point I don't even bother to use my energy to curse the heavy nightly snowfalls and the lack of respect North Americans seem to have for pedestrians, but instead paddle onwards on the pedestrians walk at 7am each morning, my legs knee-deep in the snow, desperately trying to reach the bus stop in time.
Quebeckers also seem to know how to dress for the occasion, since unlike the stereotypes might make you think, Canadians don't run around wearing shorts and plaid shirts during winter. Everyone has a quality waterproof winter coat and furred hoods to come with it. Being able to enjoy the local winter to the fullest really asks for appropriate clothes.
|Boulevard René-Lévesque on a -40 °C Saturday morning|