Canadian Lifestyles : Winter for Newcomers

By Sioban Costelloe

Sioban Costelloe was born on the island of Dominica and raised in Trinidad and Tobago before migrating to Canada in 1997.

Canada is glorious during the summer but winters here are absolutely beautiful and can be easily enjoyed once you are prepared for the weather. I am an 'island girl' and the thought of spending one hour in the cold is penance for me so before I venture out I think warm, happy thoughts, put on a layer of thermals, followed by a layer of sweats, then another layer of thick jeans and a heavy jacket, gloves, three pairs of socks, hat and ear muffs. Yes, I am by all means a walking closet of clothes. Anything to keep me warm.

There are many outdoor activities to pass the winter months away - ice-skating, tobogganing, snowboarding and hockey. Canadians love the summer but the highlight of winter brings on a whole new meaning. Imagine ice-skating in a beautifully lit park at night, or sliding down the slopes on a pair of skis while the sun is shining, or sitting in the Air Canada Center cheering the Leafs on. The Toronto Maple Leafs, affectionately known as The Leafs, is quite possibly Ontario's favorite hockey team and one can get caught up in all the excitement cheering this popular team on through the National Hockey League games (except when there is a strike on!).

Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto usually hosts the Winterfest, which will be of great interest for those who prefer a slower pace. It is a 14 day festival with over 30 attractions and lots of free activities. The dates are January 28 to February 10. To find out more call 416-338-0038 or log on to www.city.toronto.ca
If you are a first timer you will most likely want to try your winter legs out in the local park where you live. My son favours any sport that has outdoors written all over it even if it is below freezing outside. Three years ago he wanted a snowboard for Christmas and that year his wish from Santa was sitting under the Christmas tree. He proudly displayed his new snowboard to family and friends. I was happy to stand in my balcony and watch him practice in the playground which was right in front of my apartment. This way I could easily slip inside to warm up and watch him from my window. My son however had other intentions and soon learned from his friends that the place to try out his new snowboard was at Chinguacousy Park in Brampton near to where we lived. Now, being the sun worshipper that I am, you have to understand that the last place I really want to be is in the snow but my son was persistent and I finally gave in.

One Saturday I promised to take him to Chinguacousy, I layered up with clothing and decided to borrow a toboggan from my parents. After all, if I was going I might as well be brave and have some fun too. That Saturday was perfect - it snowed the night before so there was fresh powder on the ground, it was a mild 15 degrees below zero (I am being sarcastic here -15 below is freezing) but for the winter sport enthusiast it is perfect weather. We drove to the park and before I had even locked the car, my son was already making his way to where all the other families were on the hill. The snowboard was two sizes bigger than he was and I laughed because he looked so funny and cute.

Getting to the top of the hill was no easy task for me - in some parts my legs would go down in little holes in the snow. This made it hard to pull a toboggan and keep my balance at the same time. My son had no problem running to the top and every so often turning to shake his head at me. "Come on Mom!" he shouted.
Out of breath and tired I finally reached the top of the slope and stood up to take a look around, to realize that there was a small ski lift on the other side of the hill which we could have taken. My son made friends quickly and soon he was surfing on his board, going down the hill at a very fast pace .too fast I thought. Then I wondered, in panic, if he knew how to stop. I did not want him to get hurt or crash into someone else so I jumped on the toboggan without thinking and raced after him. Halfway down the hill I realized that I had no idea how to stop either! My son had already got so far ahead of me as I watched him go further down. Then as my luck would have it there was a bump. Soon I was up and then down, head first in the snow, feet sticking up in the air and a runaway toboggan.
Feeling my pain and the cold snow on my face, I tried to dig myself out all the time scouting the hill for my little dare devil. I heard this loud whir, skating noise and as I turned my head to look behind. There they were, a dozen kids and my son leading the pack. He had already made it to the top of the hill again while I was trying to recover from my fall. At this age they all believe each is Tony Hawke Pro Skater and by no means are they professional, least of all their fearless leader, my son. I looked on in panic. They were all headed straight for the bump. I could tell that they were planning to use it as a ramp to jump off and they were headed straight towards me!

With no where to run I opened my mouth to let out a faint, "Ahhhh" and took another dive into the cold snow, crouching down just below the ledge the packed ice and snow had made on the bump. With my hands covering my face, I peeped through my fingers to see the colorful designs underneath the snow boards as they passed over me. I caught the sight of one kid, with ears red from the cold. Then of course there were the comments, "Hey lady get out of there," and "Whose mother is that?" When I thought it was over I uncovered my eyes only to hear a, "Bye mom!" as my son grabbed the hat off my head and went down the hill with it.
It was over in less than a minute.

I got up and put out my hand to stop the other snowboarders who were making their way down the hill. With my quirky motions I was trying to dodge a snowboarder here and a toboggan there. I decided to make my way to the ski lift. What a relief. "I had never seen anything so dangerous," I said out loud to myself as I motioned to jump on the lift. Some one responded, "I know. I am glad you moved but you cannot get to the bottom of the hill this way." The expression on my face must have been comical because everyone else let out a laugh.
With no toboggan, wet from melting snow and beginning to feel cold, I decided to move off to the side of the hill and make my way down slowly. My son was at the bottom of the hill waiting for me - he had somehow captured the runaway toboggan and was now pointing to the Hot Chocolate Stand.

Happy to be finally off the slope and away from sure disaster, I paid for two delicious cups of hot chocolate and we went to the car. My muscles ached for days and my son grounded me to the apartment.

My first time skiing in Muskoka was no better but I was amazed at how easily my son managed to put on a pair of skis and go. I spent my skiing experience stuck on the 'baby hill', with a pair of tangled skis and holding on to a life-line rope, after which I was also grounded by my son to the apartment.

Today, I just stand and watch, usually from my car. It is really so much fun but please be careful. The ski resorts employ a team of seasoned instructors specifically for beginners. Try signing up for a class. The YMCA or your local Parks & Recreation brochure will list a number of activities that you can take during winter: ice skating, snow boarding and skiing for you and your family.
Or you might prefer to be like me and stay on the sidelines watching everyone have a good time.

CNM