DIARY FOR JANUARY 1999 FROM ONTARIO CANADA (Diary reads from last to first)

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Tuesday 19th January 1999

As you can probably tell from the past few days .. I am feeling totally ticked off! Apart from walking the puppy I (and the entire homeowning population of Ontario) have spent endless hours shovelling mountains of snow. Even with the snowblower (God bless the saintly soul who invented this device) I still have to shovel parts of my roof, the deck, the doorways and around the foundation of the house. I haven't had the energy or strength to go to the gymn to get proper all-over exercise. The result is a strained back and the beginnings of sciatica.

Saturday 16th January 1999

Anyone thinking of emigrating to Canada would be well advised to get Pierre Burton's beautiful book from the library: "Winter". On the first page it has the famous poem by Gilles Vigneault:

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.

and for those of you who "Ne parle pas francais":

My country's not a country, it's winter,

My garden's not a garden, it's the plains,

My road's not a road, it's the snow,

My country's not a country, it's winter.

Ain't it da truf!

The pictures in this book are breathtaking .. and give one pause. The snows of Canada are not romantic, not the snows of one's childhood. They come and they stay. To many they bring death. To others they just bring sadness and a deep longing for the summer, which will, in turn bring heat and flies which makes one long for the winter again.

The following lovely poem by Wilfred Campbell, and numerous others, accompany the beautiful photographs in the book.

Never a bud of spring, never a laugh of summer,

Never a dream of love, never a song of bird;

But only the silence and white, the shores that

grow chiller and dumber,

Wherever the ice winds sob, and the griefs of winter

are heard.

Says Pierre Burton: "Invigorating" - that was the great buzzword used by the Canadian government to lure immigrants to the Canadian West and erase the image of Canada as a blizzard-swept desert. That required considerable ingenuity. .. One leading Montreal surgeon even went so far as to suggest that death from cold was a pleasant experience.

In the cities winter can be hell. "Bag ladies," as the press calls them, make headlines only when their bodies are discovered frozen in an abandoned truck (the fate of Diane Joubert, aged forty-one, in 1985) or in the stairwell of an apartment building (Eugenia Balcombe, sixty-six, in 1991). But most winter deaths these days are the result of heart attacks suffered by those who try to shovel the snow from their own sidewalks, as local byelaws have them obliged to do. In 1989, a single storm caused the deaths of thirteen people in British Columbia.

In my opinion this beautiful and truthful book should be compulsory reading for anyone intending to emigrate. Unfortunately it was published in 1994 (too late for me).

I had never considered that a government agency might prevaricate. I didn't realize how naive I was at age twenty-nine. Small words like "the bracing cold", "a dry cold that does not seem cold". I did not understand that such prevarications are the stock-in-trade of salesmen and certain government agencies. When it's fifty-degrees below and a dry cold, it's true that you don't feel it so much .. when your ear tips turn black. .. when your fingers and toes numb and die.

"When the weather turns ugly, modern mechanization takes a back seat. Drivers on the great superhighways are helpless when storms strike; so are the diesel locomotives. In January 1947, near Regina, in a blizzard that raged for ten days, an entire CPR train was buried in a gigantic snowdrift over half a mile long and twenty-six feet deep. In Ottawa that March, when twenty-five inches of snow paralyzed the city, sleighs came out of mothballs to replace trucks, until the horses themselves were so exhausted that milk deliveries ceased.

In Toronto a few days ago (see below), they brought in the military. The "Bison" all terrain vehicles have been useful getting emergency patients to hospital.

On a fifteen-mile stretch of Highway 401 east of London, Ontario, on November 24, 1970, the winds were so fierce and the snow so heavy that the traffic took six hours to move one mile. Some drivers were trapped in their cars for fourteen hours, huddled together in light clothing, numbed by the cold and so hungry that they pleaded with other stranded motorists for food. Seven hundred vehicles were mired axle-deep in the snow that day.

This section of Southern Ontario is a snow belt, prone to blizzards.

That's another word you don't hear much: "blizzard". Here they say "storm"! At junior school I was taught to call a spade a spade .. no wonder I am not much of a salesperson.

Thursday 14th January 1999

The snow arrived in earnest on the evening of Saturday 2nd January. It nicely trapped people returning on flights from abroad. They remained in their thousands, trapped at Pearson International Airport, Toronto, until the following Tuesday. The blizzard, which was fuelled by an vast store of energy, being pumped up from the Gulf of Mexico, caused chaos to all airports. Where it didn't bring snow, it brought tornadoes, thunder storms and high winds.

Since then, the temperatures have remained substantially below normal and the snow is piling up. Buffalo has had five feet or more. They declared driving bans in Buffalo, and surrounding areas, because in addition to the blizzards they have continual "lake effect snow". In Toronto they have just today brought in The Brigade of Dragoons from Camp Petawawa to help clear the streets. We are just now beginning another huge storm. I feel sorry for anyone who has to comute in these conditions.

Our truck drivers and pilots are amazing really. I've just been to get a few groceries. Even driving down to the end of my street I have to take great care. The stores are well stocked with tropical fruits; everything from pineapples to peaches. Great arrays of various meats and preserves. All this has to be flown in and trucked in. No wonder they are being joined by the military - It's a battle going on out there!
Last Year's Pictures.
The two snow ploughs for our area. I couldn't photograph them this year as they are out on the job .. and the piles of snow are 20 ft. high.
Every year my neighbour, who is retired, makes an "igloo" in the driveway. This year he has three igloos and they are becoming more like the real thing with each blizzard.
Saturday 1st January 1999

Up early as usual and walked the puppy Suzie. What a glorious morning. Skies totally clear and sparkling, blue as shades of forget-me-not flowers. Wow, but that wind is straight down from the North Pole. The Kitchener-Waterloo ATIS said that it is -16C dewpoint -20. A couple of moments with the gloves off and one's hands really hurt. Suzie has learned about ice and no longer skids over the ice-rink. In fact she walks carefully around the edge. That's just as well: this year already numerous people have risked their lives to save dogs. The dogs rush out onto the river-ice and go through. It takes a while before it is several feet thick, even at these low temperatures.

I have just been watching the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. That is, I think, probably the most exquisite display of flowers in the world. I wouldn't mind going there next year, to see it in person. It's something to look forward to anyway. The trouble with that is the potential of the dreaded Year 2000. Guess I'll wait until the next year for that particular display.

After lunch, it is such a beautiful day I decided to take some Polaroid pictures to show you a couple of my favourite scenes.

The first is a "Santa Claus" which appears to be climbing up to this homeowners chimney.

Most homeowners, in the USA and Canada, decorate their houses on the outside as well as the inside. Unfortunately the day is so very bright I don't think you will be able to see the beautiful Christmas tree in the porch.

On my way I passed the park, where they have a sledding hill and ice rink.

By the afternoon the rink was being used for ice-hockey and figure skating and the hill was quite busy with little children sledding.

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