The worst winter on Earth?
When the first flakes of snow fly past my window, I know it has begun: another Montreal winter will soon arrive, and it could stay for six months.
How to describe the winter here? It is long, intense and arduous. There are piles and piles of snow, on buildings, on cars and on the streets. The city loses its colour and becomes monochrome; everything turns to white and grey. Familiar buildings are disguised in layers of snow and rows of icicles, and everywhere you look, you see whirling snow in every direction. The thick coating of ice on the ground means you have to walk slowly, even if you’re in a rush. And the cold! Temperatures can fall to -30°. The air is so cold that you simply cannot leave the house unless most of your skin is well covered in multiple layers. On the worst days, it can be painful to even breathe in the air - and when you do, you can feel the little hairs in your nostrils freezing together with ice crystals!
It is tempting to take shelter from all this by staying inside all winter. But the thing about people in Quebec is their winter spirit – life just goes on here, and people refuse to let the cold get them down. In the depths of winter, surrounded by overwhelming snow and ice, you will still see parents and children shopping, dogs being walked (often wearing little coats) and even a few brave cyclists commuting to work. The city continues to thrive, and people continue to go out. They also make the most of the weather, by enjoying winter sports like ice skating and sledging. Festivals such as Igloofest, the electronic music festival held in January, bring people together and keep spirits up. At Christmas time, festive songs play from speakers attached to the city’s lampposts. Despite the brutal cold, people remain cheerful and warm in their attitude, and this makes all the difference.
And then, at some point towards April, something amazing happens. After seemingly endless months of punishing winter… the snow starts to melt. The air softens. The whiteness starts to give way to patches of colour. And there, out of the melting ice, little clusters of crocuses appear. They are bursts of red, purple and yellow, growing up out of ground that has been buried and frozen for months. It hardly seems possible to see these tiny, delicate plants blooming, after what they have endured. Yet here they are, and they are one of the most wonderful things about this city; they remind you, every year, of what people and places can survive.