Winter in Huron County - the snow is swirling and the winds are blowing, with a bit of freezing rain thrown in for good measure every once in a while. Lots of people swear by heading south, getting a bit of sun and a vitamin D boost and shedding the mitts and toque, if only for a week. I’ve long been convinced that having come into the world in February has made me a life-long winter lover – and have never had the urge to fly south for the winter.
Last winter was my first time ever at a resort – and that included staying on the edge of Algonquin Park and spending the week cross country skiing, skating, and dogsledding. It was magical despite the -30 degrees celsius temperatures. This year, I had the opportunity to get away and spend a weekend in Montreal.
I had never really spent time in Montreal so I booked a walking tour ahead of time. Organized walking tours are such a great way to get to know a place. I have done one in New York City, Boston, and now Montreal. You learn things that you never would have known. Or, you get to learn them in a different way that makes them more memorable. Walking lets you really experience a place – the sites, smells, topography, and people, in a way you can’t otherwise. It also helps you get your bearings so you can go back and take time to explore areas in the city that catch your eye.
Our tour started at one of the most famous landmarks in the city – the Notre-Dame Basilica, which is impossible to describe in words. The outside of the building is modeled on English architecture, while the inside is French. Attracting around one million visitors every year, the Basilica is a marvel of architecture and a place of beauty and reverence. I have read that there are many other churches throughout the city worth visiting, and not nearly as busy as this one. That is another advantage of winter travelling – the crowds are just not the same during toque weather.
While we were marveling at the building itself and waiting for our tour to start, my eye caught a statue on the edge of the area called Place D’Armes. Upon further investigation, it was a man, with a huge prosthetic nose stuck up in the air, holding a small dog. 210 feet away, was a woman, also with a huge prosthetic nose stuck up in the air, holding a different small dog. In a city filled with monuments commemorating dashing historical figures, the modern clothing and stance of these two characters seemed out of place. Not to mention the noses, obviously tied on with a string.
The accompanying plaque explained one of the most interesting monuments I came across…. “The English Pug and the French Poodle” was inspired by the Commedia dell’arte and Two Solitudes from novelist Hugh MacLennan. The English man, holding his pug, is staring at the symbol of French power, the Notre-Dame Basilica, while the French woman, in her Chanel suit and French poodle, is staring toward the symbol of English power – the Bank of Montreal’s head office. The two dogs, however, have eyes only for each other. These two snobs set up an ironically touching scene of the cultural distance between English and French Canadians.”
You can see them for yourself here: https://artpublic montreal.ca/en /oeuvre/the-english-pug-and-the-french-poodle/
There are many monuments throughout the old part of the city, rich in meaning about the history and people of one of Canada’s largest cities. If you take the time to look – you will see tributes to the farmers, nurses, teachers, business leaders, as well as the soldiers, generals, and First Nations people who all contributed to the development of the country we know today. I was struck by the number of monuments honouring the women who played major roles in the developing country. Nurses and teachers, they were credited with educating and developing hospitals, building a foundation for the people who followed.
The amazing architecture throughout the old city is also fascinating. One building had stones brought from Scotland for construction – as if we didn’t have enough stones already here! Another caught my eye – the “Molson Bank”, which apparently had its own Molson currency. It was founded in 1855 and operated until 1925, when it merged with the Bank of Montreal. Who knew that beer brewing, which John Molson began in 1786 in Montreal, would be big enough to have its own currency!? The Bank of Montreal located at 3 King St. S, Waterloo, Ontario was originally a Molson Bank, built in 1914, and is listed in the Registry of Historical Places in Canada.
Visiting and learning about new places adds colour to my knowledge of Canadian history. It takes the vague black and white pictures from my memory of high school text books and makes it a lot more real. It helps me gain an appreciation for the struggles and hardships that our ancestors went through, not to mention their incredible ingenuity and bravery.
As crop farmers, winter is a time for planning, getting equipment repaired and tuned up for the next season, and dealing with stuff that fell through the cracks during the hectic cropping season. If you can swing it, getting away for a change of scenery can be one of the best ways to get revitalized and energized for the upcoming season. Reflecting on the people who braved the travel, and the unknowns, leaving behind loved ones and comfort, and all they did to get us where we are today also helps to put our modern day complaints (like a wet harvest) in perspective.