Today is one of those days that make me miss the harsher Montreal winters. It snowed on the weekend, temperatures reached -20 with the windchill, and then suddenly it’s above zero again and raining. So of course all the snow is melting and it’s slush and ice everywhere. Tomorrow it’s supposed to fall below zero again, which will mean that all the puddles will turn into skating rinks. Aff… I miss the steady cold of Montreal winters…

Ice Storm of ’98

This week marks 10 years of the Ice Storm of 1998. To honour the event, I ressurrect a post I wrote a little while back:

“Canadians had never before endured a natural disaster like the ice storm of 1998. A difficult morning of car scraping quickly turned into a state of emergency from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec. Millions huddled in the dark by their fireplaces. Many suffered from hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Heavy ice sheets toppled huge power pylons and in just six days an electrical system that took decades to create was razed.”


Hydro towers

The storm started on Monday Jan 5th, and I arrived in Montreal from Brazil on Wednesday, Jan 7th. My flight was one of the last flights in before they shut the airport down. Early Thursday morning Alan woke me up to say that we lost power at some point overnight. I dismissed him and went back to sleep. Coming from a warm country where power failures are common, I failed to realized immediately the seriousness of what happened. Losing power in Brazil is one thing; it’s quite another to have no power in the middle of a Canadian winter!

But it wasn’t so bad. We spent the next few days keeping the fire going in our fireplace, covered with sleeping bags, cooking potatoes on the fire and soups on a fondue pot. At some time on the second night a neighbour knocked on our door to ask if everything was ok and if needed any help. We were fine. The police & firemen were going house by house in Montreal to check safety conditions. Houses deemed unsafe for being too cold were evacuated and people brought to shelters kept warm by generators. Our local aquatic centre, home to Alan’s Master Swim Team, was turned into one such shelters and every morning we would drop by for a hot shower and a free cup of coffee. That was our only opportunity to connect with the neighbouhood and exchange news of what was going on. When we ran out of wood for our fireplace, the old lady living next door offered us some.

I was amazed by the level of organization authorities showed in dealing with the chaotic situation.

Broken treesOn Sunday morning the neighbour across the street knocked on our door to tell us he just got power back and after warming his house for a couple of hours he would be happy to stretch an extension cord across the street to fire up our furnace as well. We were thankful and delighted by the offer. Before he could do it we too got power back. It was my first time in Canada during the winter. What an introduction!

Figures of the Ice Storm

  • 28 ppl died, many from hypothermia
  • 945 people were injured
  • Over 4 million people in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick lost power
  • About 600,000 people had to leave their homes
  • 130 power transmission towers were destroyed and more than 30,000 utility poles fell
  • Millions of trees fell, and more continued to break and fall for the rest of the winter
  • Estimated cost of the ice storm was $5,410,184,000
  • Much of the sugar bush used by Quebec maple syrup producers was permanently destroyed. It was estimated that it would take 30 to 40 years before syrup production could return to normal.

Official site: Ice Storm of ’98

Photos here.


I’m sitting on my couch and watching the snowstorm outside. The flakes are huge, they are falling fast and I can hardly see across the street. Alan is all excited; he’s been complaining Toronto never gets a truly big snowstorm. Today, his wishes came true!! Good thing it’s Sunday… If this had happened during the week, maybe we would have had to call in the army… ;)


Update: we went out twice during the storm. Once for coffee and to take a few pictures. Yonge street, which is always busy, was sooo quiet. Later on we went to a friend’s place for dinner and had a bit of trouble with the public transit. But other than that, both Alan and I felt like little kids! Snow makes winter more bearable…

street outside our building

So glad we don't drive

Outside our door Tourist on yonge street

Yonge Street:

Yonge Yonge

Enjoying coffee while the world turned white


New mitts and gloves!

Shopping in Montreal is always fun and this time I decided to pick up a new pair of mitts. I don’t really wear gloves in the winter here in Canada because they never really work; once you split your fingers, they freeze! So mitts are the way to go… But I couldn’t resist the very colourful mis-matched gloves I found at the Musée de Beaux-Arts’ shop…


Aren’t they cool?

What’s that for thursday???


What’s that coming out of the clouds on thursday (jueves)???? That would be sooooo cool but I’ll believe it when I see it. Alan is not looking forward to  all this cold. Being Canadian, he is all too aware of how badly prepared to handle the cold buildings are around here… And Canadians can face -40 anyday but they hate feeling cold inside their homes.

Winter has arrived in Montreal

Friends and family have been telling us how unseasonable weather has been in Canada. It reached 10 degrees celsius over the Christmas holiday!! There was no snow to speak off… And this is in the country where snow is not uncommon in october!! Winter in TO - CBC archives

Well, winter came in with a vengeance yesterday. 20 cm of the white stuff blanketed Montreal and the temperature is expected to fall to -22 tonight. Tomorrow, it will reach -17. Normal temperature at this time of year is a high of -6 and low of -15. It’s -8 in Toronto right now but with the strong wind it feels more like -19.

People here in Spain and in Brazil often ask me how can live in that kind of cold. Of course, they don’t believe me when I tell them it’s not as bad as it sounds. The clothes are appropriate, houses are built to insulate against the cold and the heating systems are very efficient. I have honestly felt colder in Brazil that I’ve ever felt in Montreal (or Toronto).

In Canada I’ve learned that winter and cold weather do not necessarily equal dark weather. Since the sun never quite loses its strength, in Brazil the coldest days are overcast, rainy days. So, I’ve always associated cold weather with a lack of sun. But Montreal rectified that. With one of the coldest winters anywhere I also found it very sunny. The coldest days were always the sunniest and there’s nothing as beautiful as a sunny day in a snowy landscape! Just hope for no wind…

Click here for a vocabulary of all the different kinds of snow we get in Canada.

Amazing weather – the Canadian dream?

It reached 28 degrees yesterday!! (and I’m not talking Farenheit!) We’ve been told it does get cold here in the winter and judging by the state of things when we arrived in april, the trees lose their leaves at some point. The only problem is: we have no idea when this so-called winter starts.

I’m used to having warm weather at all times of the year but to Alan, the Canadian from Quebec, this is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. He’s never had warm weather for six months before and is extactic. Let’s not forget, weather defines the way the rest of the world views Canada and the way Canadians view the rest of the world.

Growing up in a country that still defines the world through a first-world vs third-world dichotomy, I expected when I moved to Canada that Canadians would not to be too interested in my third-world country. I didn’t count on the Canadian obsession with warm weather. Invariably, it went more or less like this:

Canadian: “So, where are you from?”

Alex: “Brazil”

Canadian in a tone of shock: “WHY???”

Alex confused: “Excuse me?”

Canadian still shocked: “Why would you leave such a warm country with beautiful all-year-round beaches??”

I then quickly realize that although Canadians love their country and like some snowy weather once in a while, by January/February they are totally fed up. Most dream of retiring somewhere warm. They go to Florida or if they can’t get too far, move to Vancouver where it is said winter is shorter.

The rest of the world have a similar attitude. This is what I get from every single person I have met here – irrespective of nationality:

Foreign friend: “So, where are you from?”

Alex: “I’m originally from Brazil but I live in Canada now”

Foreign friend in a you-must-be-crazy-to-live-there tone: “Brrrrr, cold”

That’s it. No matter where they are from, no matter if they never actually been to Canada, everybody knows Canada is cold. And they are totally shocked when I tell them we have beautiful hot summers and that winter is not actually that bad.  I don’t think they believe me.

Maybe that’s why Canadians are generally nice to people from other parts of the world: wherever they are from, winter must be milder and shorter!!

But you know what? I think this Brazilian will miss the Canadian winter and its snow…

Snow in Queen's Park, Toronto