These days, I have never seen so many Quebeckers rave about cross-country skiing, skating, snowshoeing, etc. They publish thousands of photos of winter landscapes on their networks, praising the cold season.
So much so that the proverb “to something bad is good” comes to mind. A bit like last summer, where Quebecers, COVID obliges, rediscovered their territory.
Granted, things are not going well: the invariant of bad news on virus variants; insufficient vaccines, hospitalizations, deaths.
The figures of “new cases” seem reassuring, but do not rejoice too quickly.
At least, the pandemic has unsuspected side effects. The “rediscovery” of winter is one of them.
There is something unhealthy, depressive in the traditional discourse about this season – which is at the heart of our identity, however.
“Cursed winter” sang Dominique Michel in the 1970s, cursing “clenched teeth, chapped hands, batteries on the ground”.
The hatred of Quebec winter could fill an anthology. It was undoubtedly Voltaire who started the ball rolling around 1756 with his multiple denunciations of the efforts made by France for these “few acres of snow in America”.
For the historian and poet François-Xavier Garneau, winter appears “like an immense phantom”, which “seems to cover the skies”; illustration of the Union’s dark period of 1840.
Let’s be positive
A political metaphor apart, 181 years later, it is more than ever possible to enjoy the cold season, its unparalleled light.
In recent decades, moreover, a current has fought the winter disaster by promoting “nordicity”, a term due to the late geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin.
Some resist: “I still go out every day with my hair dryer to melt the north,” wrote me yesterday jokingly a friend a little “maniac” anti-winter.
We can bet that the current situation is opening the eyes of many in this camp.
There is even an opportunity for our governments. There should be a sort of “Plan Nord”. Not like that of Jean Charest, which aimed mainly at profit. (Very legitimate, moreover.)
Rather invest so that our nordicity is even more often pleasant to live in. And practical for getting around.
There would be some crazy projects to consider. In Edmonton, in 2015, an architecture student designed the “Freezeway”, a skating track of some 10 km allowing citizens to move between home and work.
But no need to be so daring: in our cities, it would suffice to have more refrigerated rinks, like the few in Montreal or, in Quebec, the formidable ice ring of the Plains of Abraham.
Strangely enough, cross-country skiing is underexploited in our cities and suburbs, where the equivalent of a snowmobile equipped as a groomer could turn cycle paths into ski lanes.
This Plan Nord would have fairly rapid effects, not only on the quality of life in winter, but also on the health of citizens.