This changing winter weather

Last week I travelled to Belleville, then on to Toronto, Tiverton (just east of Lake Huron), Creemore and then home to Quyon.

What struck me was the lack of snow.

If you remember, last year I wrote a column entitled "Mon pays, c'est l'hiver." The title was borrowed from Gilles Vigneault's anthem to Québec, in which the poet wrote:

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon jardin ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la plaine
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver

(Read the entire poem at

But this year, Vigneault's words don't quite cut the mustard. This year, although most of our Pontiac fields have some snow coverage, there's not nearly as much as last year's thigh-high blanket of the white stuff.

And southern Ontario countryside resembles an April landscape.

While in Belleville last Monday, snow was gently and then earnestly falling. While I journeyed on to Toronto, Eric drove back in a snowstorm where roads became treacherous.

But the capital of Ontario, was it snowy?

No. Toronto's streets were bare of snow. In fact, during my five-day stay, I didn't wear my boots once. Instead, balmy temperatures of +7, +5 greeted me. Every day I wore ordinary street shoes and, because I travelled about on the excellent subway system from one end of the city to another and every which way in between, I was warm in my fall clothes.

Although such gadding about is easy (not to mention fun) in the city, I still wonder about how Toronto's trees, gardens and parklands are faring. The Don River's embankments were muddy and brown: a glimmer of dirty snow peeked out, here and there, where sunshine had not quite melted it all away.

Walking from the Summerhill subway station to my friend's home located north of Eglinton Avenue is a pleasant walk of some 10 km or so, a walk I've enjoyed for years while growing up in that city. In the sixties, walking this stretch in winter was something I never contemplated.

Winters in Toronto used to be eagerly anticipated by my brother and me. We couldn't wait to get our toboggans out - not to mention the flying saucer whose metal surface sometimes stuck to my woolen mittens. Living beside the Mount Pleasant Cemetery was a child's delight: we would haul our sleds out to the wonderful hills directly behind our apartment and shout with glee as we hurtled downhill. It was only when these same hills became peopled by gravestones that the kindly cemetery groundsmen would tell us to stop. Prior to the inevitable expansion of the gravesites, these slopes provided a splendid childhood haven for us, deep in the heart of Toronto.

But as the years went by, the weather changed. Gone - possibly forever - are the deep snowdrifts of a Toronto winter that accumulated throughout the months.

Beyond the city limits, last week, I found similarly barren fields, where snow glistened in the sunlight along the rows of stubble corn. I saw herds of wooly looking cattle and horses, eating hay from feeders else from bales tossed on the ground, resembling those here at home.

With one great difference: the herds were soaking up the sunshine in fields almost totally devoid of any snow coverage at all.

As we drove toward Lake Huron, snow did appear, but far less than in previous years. Field upon field stretched brownly, revealing last year's patterns left by farm machinery that worked the soil. At Eric's sister's home, where we had hoped to ski and snowshoe, there was a scant few centimetres of off-white snow, with large grassy patches showing through.

So we decided to head to the lake and enjoy a beach walk.

It was thrilling: rounded rocks of all shapes and sizes, well-sorted by wave action, littered the beach. Absolutely no snow. None! But, toward the lake, there was a stretch of mottled-looking ice and then, beyond it, rose the "volcano formations" of ice and snow that throng this stretch of lakeshore come wintertime.

These formations are created as waves of icy water crash against the frozen shoreline. Truly resembling volcanoes, they have an inner hollow core. Standing on the beach, we watched while waves crashed against them. The water swept beneath them and shot out of the peak of the cone, splashing on the outside of it and thus building up the exterior volcano-shape.

Truly, this is a thrilling sight. Eric's sister Laurie has been known to cross-country ski amid these formations. I desperately want to do this some day because she tells me the experience is awesome: she has even been able to peer inside the cone, looking beneath the surface of these "volcanoes" to the icy water beneath. Shiver me timbers: this sounds exciting!

But it was not to be, this visit. The ice was soggy-looking and obviously couldn't have borne our weight. Another time.

Our other friends who live in a heritage farmhouse in the country outside of Creemore fared little better for snow this winter. Hardly any: certainly not enough for any winter sports.

Which brings me back to Quyon and the Pontiac. Yes, there's snow here. But not enough for sufficient coverage for crops and for the replenishment of the water table.

Yes, it's more than our neighbours to the south have. But how, I wonder, will the change in weather patterns alter insect life? How will it affect hibernating species? How will it effect trees that come into leaf and which are then frozen (as happens in Calgary with that city's famous chinooks)?

I don't know… and frankly, no-one does. It's all a process to which we and everything else on the planet must adapt.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based north of Quyon, Québec. Contact her at