Montreal has become a no-snow zone, more reminiscent of April than February. Last week, some downtown café-terrasses were open and busy, with no heat lamps.
Our city feels like it’s moved to Toronto or Washington for the winter — even the Big Apple has had more snow than us.
Our outdoor skating rinks are just puddles, an astonishing sight in mid-winter. Could that be the explanation for the Montreal Canadiens’ staggering slump — a winter-city team suddenly teleported to the climate of the Carolina Hurricanes — robbed of its northern strength?
Our Syrian refugees must be stunned, sweating under their 25,000 thickly-knit, sub-zero tuques — and donated arctic parkas. They were psychologically prepped to spend three months in a freezer, but last week Montreal was only slightly cooler than Beirut.
It’s not just Quebec. Record-high temperatures have closed the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, and cancelled famed dogsled races in the Arctic, as Canada experiences the warmest, most snowless winter in its history.
I’ve managed to downhill ski, cross-country and snowshoe in the Laurentians, but I’ve also biked in Montreal many days when the streets were snowless and the weather mild. It’s like life in Vancouver.
The best news is we’re saving a bundle on snow-clearing. Our annual budget is $155 million, so there must be a fortune left over — what can we spend it on? If it gets any warmer how about opening our playgrounds and swimming pools a little earlier — like next week?
The most revealing part of our missing winter is how few people I’ve heard complaining. Some hearty souls genuinely miss the freezing cold, but for most Montrealers, this is our winter of content.
Meteorologists have given us permission not to feel guilty, by blaming the freaky weather on a super El Niño — not Warmaggedon. But it’s hard to ignore that 15 of the last 16 winters have broken all-time records for warmth — enough to give anyone a chill.
The truth is we Quebecers are losing our passion for winter. Yes, the Fête des Neiges has been crowded with winter-lovers in Jean Drapeau Park. But even there people are snowshoeing and sledding on artificial snow that’s now being trucked in from St-Bruno, because it’s too warm to even make snow in Montreal.
What next — will we have to fly in snow from Iqaluit?
Igloofest is also going strong at the Old Port, though they have to remake their igloos and ice bars every night — inside a refrigerator.
Surveys report 25 per cent of Quebecers still “love” winter, but the rest of us have a conflicted relationship with it. We love snow on ski hills, country trails and someone else’s rooftop. We love snow on Christmas Eve, especially if it’s gone by New Year’s Day.
But we’ve started to see routine cold winters as an enemy. A typical winter weather forecast rarely mentions anything as innocent as a “snowfall.” It’s filled with blizzards, cold fronts, black ice, wind chill, freezing drizzle and warnings like:
“Sidewalks are expected to be icy and slippery, turning to dangerous and treacherous. Roads are hopeless, traffic is impossible and a southern vacation alert is in effect.”
What happened to us? We grew up in a country famed for its winter spirit, in fierce weather we barely gave a second thought.
In part, our disenchantment is because we live in modern big cities where winter brings traffic jams, accidents, wind tunnels, slush puddles, snow plow sirens, and towed-away cars — all blessedly absent this year.
We’re also an aging population that feels the weight of winter more — a nation of older, frailer ice-terrified wimps who can’t see a snowstorm without dreaming of a snowplow.
La Presse columnist Alain Dubuc wrote Maudit Hiver, a book about winter that adds a deeper modern cause to our fading winter soul. He says with Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, francophones began rejecting many symbols of the past: the church, traditional families and rural life — along with its brutal country winters.
So Gilles Vigneault’s epic “Winter Is My Country” is now an outmoded mythology — replaced by “Winter is Mi-ami.”
This year, Miami’s come a little closer to us. Environment Canada’s senior climatologist, David Phillips, says this is the warmest winter ever recorded, so its effects are unknown.
Things can always change overnight — but Phillips fears this winter won’t be cold enough to kill off pests and insects that carry disease in spring. He worries about hordes of grasshoppers, plagues of deer tics spreading Lyme disease, and who know what else — alligators in the swamps of the Laurentians, sharks and piranha in the warming St. Lawrence?
Even you winter-haters out there might want to pray for some blizzards and minus 30 days, to make sure we get our usual Montreal summer, with the usual mosquitoes — not the Zika kind.
Republished with the permission of Josh Freed from the Montreal Gazette.