My Quebec in winter
“Mon Pays, ce n’est pas un pays c’est l’hiver.” (Gilles Vigneault)
“My Country is not a country, it is winter.” (traduction from Gilles Vigneault’s text)
Well yes, I love winter, its storms, gusts and bitter cold, but especially the winter activities.
Winter for me is going for a walk in the forest with my snowshoes, skiing, dog sledding, snowmobiling and meeting ghosts … yes yes ghosts.
Winter is my favorite season. My prettiest childhood memories are attached to it.
For us there was no reason to stay in the house watching TV in cold or stormy weather. My parents ‘kicked us out’ as soon as they could and the magic worked.
With my cousins, neighbors and the many children of the neighborhood we had fun making forts, tunnels in the snow, going sliding even if it was -20 °C. But one of my greatest joys was skating. Not in the park or in a neighborhood ice rink. No no, in my private ice rink that my father had built for us in the courtyard of the house. My dad, despite his day’s work, made sure our rink was spotless and ready when we got home from school.
My days as a kid were all about going to school, doing my homework, going out skating and playing with my friends. Often we would go in for supper and go back outside even though it was dark, cold and stormy.
But on the weekends, the children of the house practiced a winter sport. For me it was figure skating. My father introduced us all to alpine skiing, he took us skiing on the Laurentian mountains to offer us wonderful days with the family. My mom loved cross country skiing, which she used to do until she was 75, often on weekends. She would take us to the fields so that we could practice this sport with her.
Incredible memories of my childhood winter days are engraved in my memory.
For my part, I continued the tradition. My children could witness it. When they were little, it was my turn to put them outside, have them build snow forts, prepare them a little winter picnic to eat in their fort. But above all to put them on the boards to take them down the mountain slopes with me. For me, it is a great happiness to spend my days sharing my favorite sport with them. Now they are grown up and they take advantage of the winters in their own way.
I discovered a bigger playground, here in Quebec and in the mountains all around. So let me tell you more about these activities that fascinate me. But first you need to know a little more about Quebec winters. Winter lasts more or less from November to April, with a temperature that oscillates between 0 and -40 °C, winds which often come from the northeast and which in my opinion can bite you in the face (you will understand that it is necessary to cover the cheeks).
It’s not snowing every day even if it would be really pleasant and magical. But there are small storms that can leave us up to 30 cm for a total per season of 300 cm to 400 cm of beautiful white snow.
It is never too cold to go out, you just need to dress up in several layers of clothing known as the onion peel technique (that’s the secret).
So put on your tuque, and here are the different activities that you can enjoy during winter in Quebec City and its surroundings.
My new passion whether it’s snowshoeing or putting crampons on my showboots.
The best way to discover breathtaking landscapes and also to meet ghosts. Ghosts are the accumulations of snow on trees on top of mountains.
First, let's talk about snowshoeing
Its origins go back long before the arrival of the first settlers in New France.
Already in the 17th century, when the French arrived in their new colony, the snowshoes were used by the Amerindians. The French will immediately adopt this mode of transport to facilitate their travel whether for hunting, cutting firewood, to visit their neighbors and even to wage war. Basically to ensure their survival in the harsh climate of their new adopted land.
I am fascinated by the number of snowshoe models that will be created by Native Americans. Depending on the geographical location, the snowfall will be different. Their genius will lead them to adapt their snowshoes according to their use.
But the image that comes to my mind and that makes me dream is the Fur Traders (who will all learn from the Amerindians) who walk in the woods in order to hunt and thereby participate in the fur trade which was at the beginning of the colony of New France the economic engine of its survival.
Quietly this traditional activity of survival, had transformed into sport and leisure.
If you are introduced to this sport, several urban and mountain courses are within your reach.
There is a legend that says that the Iroquois practiced this sport wearing moccasins to which they attached animal shins with leather straps, and that French explorers would have skated as early as 1604. But the sport will be more developed around the 1840s. This sport will gain popularity very quickly, and moreover, it will be the sport preferred by women, even an important social activity.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Canada is one of the pioneers when it comes to outdoor ice development. And that in Quebec, we had the first covered skating rink in the world, in 1852.
In Quebec City, even today, you can easily find an ice rink without really going for miles. Indeed, once the cold weather arrives, the city’s parks turn into rings of ice, and often you find yourself in an enchanting environment, once night has fallen, music and multicolored light will illuminate your passage.
The national sport of Quebec, which claims to be a unifier, the subject of heated daily conversations, Saturday night meetings when I was a child.
In fact, the sport we know today has its origins in a ball and stick game played in the British Isles, particularly hurling (Ireland), shity (Scotland) and bandy (England). But it was in Montreal in 1875 where the first ice hockey game was held. And in 1877, the newspaper La Gazette de Montréal published the first rules which transformed this sport into becoming the favorite sport of Quebecois.
If you are passing through Quebec and you want a live experience with the locals, this is your opportunity. Show up with your skates and your hockey in one of the parks in Quebec City.
In the fall, white bands (the walls that define the playing surface) rise in the parks, as soon as the ice is set. Go and meet your new playmates. Don’t be surprised if there are players aged 5 to 70 with just one goal in mind : playing a game of hockey. Don’t hesitate to take a seat in the middle of the ice and throw your stick in the center of the ice like the others. To make teams someone will pull the sticks left to right, you just have to follow your stick and here is your new team. By the way, if you think that at -15 or -20 °C people won’t show up, be assured that they will be there. It’s never too cold to play hockey.
As a child each of the little hillocks became a mountain. We would go with my friends in our sleds to have fun sliding down. We could stay there for hours.
Today I still love to slide, but this time in an inner tube. For a day, my friends and I become 15 year old teenagers again. We plan a day in Valcartier, the ultimate place for tube sliding. You will see us sliding down every possible trail, where laughter, shouting and a big smile are the theme of the day. If you like thrills, we’ll definitely meet there.
This precision sport played on the ice, and whose origins are Scottish, has been practiced in the province of Quebec since the 1800s. In fact, the sport has arrived with the British soldiers. The first curling club was founded in Montreal in 1807 by Scottish immigrants. It was in 1862 that an organization was created in Quebec. Can you imagine a game of curling on the river, yeah when the ice was thick enough, people would come together to play a game. On the other hand, an urban space directly on the ice rings for skating will be suitable for them. Formerly, the Quebecois called this sport a shuffleboard game.
Last year I had the chance to try this precision sport, and I really loved it. This is a must try with your friends.
Nordic skiing or cross-country skiing, its history is as old as snowshoeing.
This sport, whose origins date back more than 5,000 years in Scandinavia, made its entry into Canada in the 1890s. Thanks to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, that organizes trips to the Laurentians (north of Montreal), fans of this sport will be able to practice their sport on a large network of tracks laid out in 1927.
But for me, as I mentioned, it was my mother’s favorite sport. I had forgotten this sport because of the lack of time. This year with the pandemic, I got back to it (not too good the girl with her balance). Despite my difficult start, I discovered plenty of small places in Quebec to practice this sport again.
So there you talk to me … Alpine skiing is probably my favourite sport. I have been practicing it since I was little. My father was an excellent skier, my childhood memories are often associated with our family outings in the Laurentians, where there were several ski centers.
When I put on my skis, I know the day is going to be perfect. Going down the slopes gives me a feeling of freedom, an intense joy. It’s my time with myself, it’s time to relax and forget about everyday worries. I passed on this sport to my children too. There isn’t a mountain in Quebec that I haven’t slid down. Now I go skiing with my friends. A few times a year, it is also the way to make it a quality day with my children.
The most suitable type of transport to travel the great Nordic spaces, cross frozen lakes and forests.
The invention of being transported in a sled pulled by dogs comes from the natives of the north. These valiant peoples had to move over large snow-covered or icy areas in order to ensure their survival. On the other hand, around 1600, when the first settlers arrived, the Europeans used it to discover the territories further north but also to transport food and goods, mainly furs, to ensure the trade.
The sleds could reach a length of 2 meters (7 feet) and 40 cm (16 in) wide by a height of 10 cm (4 in), and could carry loads up to 300 kilograms (600 pounds).
Sled dogs (the team) are a special breed, not like other animals, they must have a great resistance to extreme cold. Malamutes, huskies, and samoyeds are the best dogs for sledding. The dogs are harnessed in a single line. The last dog (tail dog) has the important task of slowing down the sled when the Musher decides. And of course the lead dog was the most obedient in keeping the expedition running smoothly. By the way, the dogs’ paws were protected with small bundles of skins so that they did not injure themselves on sharp pieces of ice.
A bit of vocabulary :
Musher: name given to the person who drives the sled.
Historically, during the First World War, Canada sent dog sled crews to help the French army.
It is an invention that is the pride of Quebecois.
Joseph Armand Bombardier aimed to create a racing car that will facilitate travel in winter. Indeed, he incorporated a cogwheel system covered with rubber and tracks on the rear wheels which revolutionized the world of snow travel. Even at the beginning the snowmobiles were mainly for practical reasons of travel, they were used during the 2Second World War, as ambulance, school bus in rural areas and for work in the forest. Today, snowmobiling or ski-doo (for Quebecois) is a good way to discover Quebec.
In figures, Quebec, through the various snowmobile clubs, marks out and maintains 34,000 km of white trails, which is greater than the number of kilometers of asphalt road that the Quebec Ministry of Transport maintains. Basically, if conditions allow it, you can tour Quebec and its winter landscapes on a tracked racing car.
A very special thank you to
for allowing us to use some of their photos.