Nov 08 2008

One of the Reasons I Left Winnipeg

Published by at 1:32 pm under Tidings from Gabriola Island

It’s November 8. When the electricity returned early this morning (power failures are fairly common on our Gulf island, especially in the rainy fall and winter seasons), I turned on the TV to see my former hometown, Winnipeg, Manitoba, blanketed in 20 cm of wet, heavy snow. The temperature there:  a frosty -6 degrees (Celsius).  On Gabriola Island this morning, the tree frogs are chirping outside my window. The temperature here: +14 degrees (Celsius). 

As a child growing up in Winnipeg, I always looked forward to the first major snowfall, which usually fell in November (though October falls, while unwelcome, weren’t all that unusual). I remember one in particular. It was Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. I was still at Queenston School, probably in grade 5. Remembrance Day was a partial school holiday then: we had to attend a short morning service and were then dismissed. Carol Matas (my best friend then and now) and I were trudging the long mile home after the service when the snow began to fall in large, doily-shaped flakes, shrouding the elm trees overarching the street, muffling sounds so that we were walking in a silent, pristine world of white.  It wasn’t particularly cold, probably around the freezing mark, and since we were in no particular hurry, we enjoyed every minute of the enchanting transformation. Before we made it home, there was at least a foot of snow on the ground. It was magical.

As I grew older, I began to dread the first snowfall, harbinger of the many frigid months to come and of frighteningly dangerous driving conditions. Snow became an inconvenience, something to shovel not play in.  And the cold, especially Winnipeg’s endless months of skin-freezing temperatures became more difficult to bear. Bone-chilling weeks below -40 (the same on both the Farenheit and Celsius scales) were not uncommon.

In high school, I frequently froze my knees walking to school in skirts and tights. In those days, girls were not allowed to wear pants at school and I as too proud, ever the self-conscious teen,  to wear snowpants over my skirts.  One year, my faux suede winter coat hardened to a beetle-like carapace, providing no warmth whatsoever. Chilled and miserable,  I informed my parents that my goal in life was to leave Winnipeg. Eventually I did, moving first to relatively balmy but much snowier Montreal, then to the nearby Eastern Townships of Quebec where skiers (but not I) welcomed the endless winter snowfalls, and finally to our temperate Gulf island off the West Coast of British Columbia, where snow is rare and grey, rainy, winter days prevail.

And yet, whenever it does snow here—and it has every winter since we arrived—my atavistic Winnipeg instincts still kick in. I glady dig out old snowboots and a snow shovel and revel in a few, rare sunny days, where sparkling snow transforms the dull winter dreariness, sending my spirit soaring.

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