Friday, February 28, 2014


The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound...

In the weeks leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Canadian Olympic Committee presented a series of visually striking ads featuring members of Team Canada with the slogan (invariably presented as a Twitter hashtag) "#wearewinter." The best of these ads is the one shown above, matching the image of snowboarder Mark McMorris with a few lines taken from nineteenth-century Canadian poet Archibald Lampman's "Winter Uplands." The twenty-year-old McMorris showed considerable grit and determination by heading to Sochi despite having broken a rib in competition less than two weeks earlier and became the first Canadian athlete to win a medal at this year's Games. For his part, Lampman earned an enduring reputation as the author of nature poems like "Winter Uplands" despite suffering years of weak health and spending most of his working life as a postal clerk in Ottawa. To my mind - and I say this with great love and respect for a country which has welcomed me very hospitably - the combination of Lampman's poetry and the "#wearewinter" slogan conveys the particular blend of sullen fatalism and stoic determination that typify many Canadians' relationship with this season.

The words "We Are Winter" have an ironic resonance these days given the sort of winter we have been having, which has been harsh even by Canadian standards; a report that I heard today on CBC Radio stated that this is the coldest winter Canada has experienced in twenty years, with temperatures unlike to rise above freezing until mid-March. I don't share the bitterness that Globe and Mail writer John Doyle expressed on the topic earlier this month, but I can't help but be struck by the fact that the "We Are Winter" campaign (no doubt devised by marketing gurus months ago) comes at a time when many Canadians are understandably pining for warmer weather.

Other than "We Are Winter," I think the best words to sum up this year's winter in Toronto were ones that I overheard yesterday from an undergraduate on the U of T campus. Bounding out of the doors of his residence hall, bundled in a woolen pea coat and scarf but still bareheaded, the young man shouted to some friends at a distance to wait so that he could catch up with them; just a moment later, he shouted, "Damn it, I need a flippin' tuque!" and immediately went back inside.* Yes, I thought to myself, you do need a tuque on a day like this, in spite of that sense of youthful invincibility which may have led the student to think he could get by without one. When this winter ends and one can once again comfortably go about bareheaded and without a heavy coat and gloves, then I - and probably also that U of T student and many, many others - shall be very grateful. AMDG.

* - I should note that the young man really did say "flippin'" and not a variation on another term famously euphemized by Pierre Elliott Trudeau as "fuddle duddle." For readers who do not know, a 'tuque' is simply a knit cap.


At 3/01/2014 6:05 PM, Blogger Lynda said...

Joseph, you have summed up our feelings about this winter extremely well. And you obviously have familiarized yourself with Canada when you can quote Pierre Elliott Trudeau so well. I remember when he caused quite a stir with his exclamations!

At 3/03/2014 3:29 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

It hasn't been as bad in Montreal as elsewhere in Canada (the PQ keeps us all overheated!), but we share the longing for warmer days. Anything approaching the freezing point is welcome. And you nailed it about that student. At my cegep I used to be amazed how students would face the outdoors with jeans, a heavy flannel shirt and scarf. They will be out in shorts as soon as the snow melts, too!


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