Laure Deriaz compares the outdoor mentality in Montréal and London
With London and the rest of the UK having a complete meltdown because of the snow and the “Beast from the East”, the very different mentalities to the snow and cold weather of Londoners and Canadians have become very apparent. Whereas many Londoners see the snow as an annoyance or another meteorological phenomenon to complain and freak out about, in Canada it’s just a fact of life.
Walking around London this week, I’ve noticed the lack of people compared to the normally bustling streets and, consequently, people packed like sardines in buses and Uber rates surging to an eye-watering level. With lectures getting cancelled left and right and the UCL libraries surprisingly empty, the general consensus seems to be that going outside is an absolute last resort. When I told people that I was going to Montréal during February reading week to visit a friend on their year abroad, my friends, family and even my boss, who’s Canadian, told me I was insane, that I would die of the cold and not step foot outside – essentially, that I was wasting my money to spend a week cooped up inside, what I would be doing on any other reading week anyway but on the other side of the Atlantic.
I’m sure that everyone’s heard of the underground city in Montréal. It connects the majority of the downtown area, even completely integrating the city’s metro system through tunnels, meaning that you can basically not go outside if you so desire. Before arriving to Montréal, I also dreaded the cold weather and bought into the idea that I would go outdoors just to go back inside, albeit a different indoor space. However, upon my arrival, I found that the hyperbolic warnings of those around me were only slightly true. Sure, it was cold but it wasn’t the Arctic Circle that I was expecting. What was even more surprising was the fact that people weren’t just outdoors but they seemed to be enjoying it – who could possibly be enjoying -15-degree Celsius weather and snow, right? It turns out, with the Canadian mentality, it is completely possible.
There are a multitude of outdoor activities on offer throughout the city, and people don’t seem to have all temporarily relocated to the underground city waiting out the winter. Rather, on our walks, we saw parents lugging sleds, or instead of pushing prams, pulling their children along the pavement on the sleds (which was both a heart-warming and funny sight), and in the bus people carrying bags with ice-skating boots. Parc de la Fontaine, a local park in the Plateau area, was packed on a Sunday with people nonchalantly slipping on and lacing up their skates, gliding along the frozen waterway ponds, which, by the way, are free to skate on– unlike the overpriced rinks that pop during the London Christmas frenzy. When they say that Canadians can skate before they can walk, this isn’t just a ridiculous stereotype, mums and dads would be casually skating around with their prams, baby inside.
Montréal’s best-known park (and where it also got its name from), Parc du Mont-Royal, a small mountain that dominates the city, isn’t just good for its nice lookout view, there’s a ton to do in winter. Cross-country skiing is, apart from ice-skating and ice hockey, another popular activity, with the city boasting around 200km of trails to ski on. For the more adventurous, this could be a great alternative to a morning gym session. However, this was more commonly another weekend activity that people did – especially popular when the sun’s out. I tried my hand at it, having only done it once before, with my friend, a total novice and with freezing rain coming out of the sky. In not exactly what we would call ideal circumstances, we were a far call from the Montréalers who had their own cross-country skiing equipment on the bus up. Thankfully, equipment is available to rent at the Lac des Castors site of the park, where in addition to cross-country skiing you can also go skating, snow-tubing and snowshoeing. Despite the adverse weather conditions, it was an overall enjoyable experience, especially the face-planting in the snow as well as great exercise to burn off the hearty poutine. What was probably the funniest memory of the trip is a runner stopping to help my friend up after a fall into thick powdery snow. There were loads of families cross-country skiing as if it were the most normal thing to do when it’s half snowing half raining (we don’t count as we needed to tick off the most tourist things on my trip here). There were also groups who seemed to be in some sort of social cross-country skiing group, similar to the social running groups that you see around Regent’s Park but with extra equipment and layers. Surprisingly, the park itself also wasn’t empty of casual walkers or even runners!
Though it’s easy enough for me to tell Londoners to emulate this positive attitude towards the wintery outdoors, the disparity between the two mentalities makes sense. Since Canada is accustomed to around 7-month long winters which, bar exceptional circumstances, involve snow, the infrastructure and activities necessarily revolve around this inevitability. As the country is well-equipped in terms of infrastructure, it may translate into the fact that people are more willing to be positive about the snow. Moreover, since it’s going to stay for a while, they may as well make the most of it to not fall into a deep SAD-induced depression.
The outdoor mentality that Canadians seem to have during winter ought to be something to look up to before we act as if we’ve been plunged into an apocalypse because of this wintery weather. Though, looking at the UK’s inexperience and the public transport and businesses responses, it is understandable why it may seem to be an apocalyptic event. However, why not try to make the most of the novelty of the snow, since we probably won’t have it again for a while?