A Taste of the Canadian North
An ex-pat reminisces about leaving the sunny climes of California with her family for a northern adventure
A Canadian ex-pat— now living in sunny California—has fond memories of one particularly frosty trip to Ottawa during Winterlude.
It’s been nearly 19 years since we moved from Ottawa to Southern California—time sure flies. We’ve been back “home” many times over the years and it’s always fun. I love going over the various trips we’ve taken back to Ottawa. We’ve done the frigid winter treks and warm summer voyages, but one trip stands out as quite different from the rest.
Eleven years ago, my husband Steve and I along with our kids decided to head home to enjoy the north. It had been three years since our previous trip. With our son Brad, 16 at the time, and two daughters Nicole and Jamie, 19 and 20, we were well overdue. Our trip was planned for February and we were all excited to be heading back to the real cold again.
Joining us were our daughters’ boyfriends. Both boys were longtime Californians who had no idea what they were in for. I knew only too well that travelling in February meant we were sure to get some ice-cold temperatures for the non-canadians to experience and us to enjoy.
Our day began early when the seven of us piled into the airport shuttle before the sun was up. With a quick stopover in Chicago— a pre- cold transition of sorts—we were headed for Canada. During our short flight from Chicago to Ottawa, my daughters tried to explain to their boyfriends what minus- degree temperatures feel like. Try as they might, you really have to experience that kind of cold to fully understand it.
After clearing customs, we waited for our luggage to come down the ramp before continuing on to our final destination. The guys were dying to feel the cold to get some sort of idea what we’d all been talking about, and Ottawa delivered as if we had ordered it up just for the visitors. They headed out the revolving door and stood waiting in the cold. I could see their breath on the frigid air. The Californians
were only out in the cold for a moment before dashing back into the warmth. My kids, who had grown up in Canada, could not stop laughing.
I waited inside the building, but the kids were out in the numbing weather. No, thank you, I’d been out there for many, many years. Our ride finally pulled up, but the doors of the van were frozen shut—something that our California visitors had never seen before. Eventually, we managed to get the doors open and officially started our northern getaway.
After being in California for so long, you really notice the wonderful open space in the Ottawa area: the vast stretches of fields; each covered with a blanket of snow in February. We made a quick stop to eat while we went over the agenda for our trip. Skiing at Camp Fortune in Quebec, an overnighter at the Westmeath Cottages, beaver tails on the Rideau Canal and a tour of the Parliament buildings were all discussed and worked into the itinerary. Seeing our California guests experience winter for the first time made our trip even more special. In one week, we were dealt the full range of winter weather; mild rain, sleet, heavy winds, snow and way-below-freezing temperatures. We spent the most wonderful week enjoying tobogganing, shovelling, scraping ice off the car window, freezing while running from car to building, driving on icy roads and just plain enjoying a very Canadian winter.
With Winterlude in full swing, the Olympics showing true Cana- dian pride and winter weather of every type, it was the perfect time and place to introduce visitors to Canada—it was truly a vacation to remember. We got to introduce the guys to where the girls had grown up, and it was a much-needed reconnect for us.
As I look back at this very different trip home, a few things occur to me. Canada in the winter is breathtakingly beautiful. Canadians are as friendly as everyone thinks they are. Canadians brave a multitude of winter activities despite the frigid temperatures, and there’s that amazing Canadian pride, which we bring back to California with us after each trip. n
Clockwise from left: A then 19-year-old Nicole having fun tobogganing; a great shot of Camp Fortune—a ski hill in Chelsea, Que., 15 minutes from Ottawa; an ice sculpture in downtown Ottawa during Winterlude.