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Childhood Winters of Yore

Taking a snowy stroll down memory lane.

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Louise (Wezie), Kathleen (Smokey) and Patricia building a snow fortPhoto: Courtesy of Patricia Madigan
Louise (Wezie), Kathleen (Smokey) and Patricia building a snow fort.

Smiles and Laughter Abound

Back in my childhood days, winter was not the formidable season that it is today. Our playground was the great outdoors and between my grandparents’ house and our house, we had an enormous yard in which to entertain ourselves.

Skating was a fun-filled activity, although we never became very proficient. At school, we often walked to the arena, where we would skate in circles, forward and, daringly, backward. Mom usually came with the class as she helped to tie the skates so that our ankles did not wobble. At home, we had no ice rink, but behind my grandparents’ house was a decent-sized swamp. We laced our skates on the front step and then walked through deep snow to the swamp, where we skated to our hearts’ content. The only problem with a swamp is that we often had to hop over clumps of grass and logs that were embedded in the ice!

The two properties had fairly steep hills for tobogganing as well. There always seemed to be a great deal of snow every winter, so we built jumps at the bottom. We would go sailing down the hill, standing, sitting or even backward. Then we would hit the bumps and usually go flying, although sometimes we landed on the ribs of the toboggan, and that hurt! Dad was very protective of his many trees in the yard, and one winter there was a tree that was in the direct path of our toboggans, so we decided to surreptitiously cut the offending tree down. We snuck into the basement to “borrow” a saw, and hack away at the tree until—Timber! The tree was actually only a couple of inches in diameter. We held our breath the rest of the winter, but Dad never did notice, although in the spring, one tree stump was about a foot high, the height of the snow at the time.

This is what a northern Ontario winter looks like.

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The gang perched on a couple of snow horsesPhoto: Courtesy of Patricia Madigan
The gang perched on a couple of snow horses.

Dare Devils

Toboggans were not the only things we chose to slide on. We had sleighs with runners but they did not work as well. A favourite was a cardboard box, which, if treated roughly, fell apart easily, so we’d end up sliding the rest of the way down the hill on our stomachs or backs. We also had a flying saucer, which was a metal disc with handles that spun in circles on the way down, making us quite dizzy! When we felt a little crazy, instead of sliding down the snowy hill, we used my grandmother’s front steps. They stretched from her front porch to the street and were made of concrete. That run was not for the weak of heart!

In a winter with lots of snow, we built long tunnels, a very time-consuming job, and a tad scary. I can still remember wondering what would happen if the tunnel caved in while I was burrowing through one. Often, we could not see the other end. I doubt that my sister, Kathleen (Smokey), or my cousin Louise (Wezie), would have been strong enough to pull or dig me out!

We were also really into horses in those days, so instead of the traditional snowman, we formed snow horses. The body was easy enough, but the difficult part was the neck and head, as the neck never seemed to be strong enough to hold the head on, and it would keep falling off. We persevered, however, and managed to create three strange-looking creatures that we called horses. We borrowed old mats and used them for saddles and hey, ho, away we would go!

There were the inevitable snow angels that would cover the yard after a snowfall. If the snow was sticky and easy to pack, we had snowball fights, although they could get heated. So, we built snow forts for defence.

Find out what it was like living in Edmonton in the 1940s.

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Patricia and Kathleen sporting jackets and snowsuits made by their dadPhoto: Courtesy of Patricia Madigan
Patricia and Kathleen sporting jackets and snowsuits made by their dad.

Homemade Fashion

Our snow apparel left much to be desired. There was no such thing as “Thinsulate” or any of the modern materials. Our coats and pants were made from melton cloth, a type of wool to which the snow clung like Velcro! Smokey and I wore snowsuits that Dad made. He cut our coats from the material of one of Mom’s old Hudson Bay coats—he didn’t even need to use a pattern! Mom knit all of our hats, mittens and scarves. Our winter boots were really galoshes, which we wore over our shoes. When we finally got too wet, cold or tired, we headed for home. By the door was a corn broom that we used to brush the snow off of each other. Mom did not appreciate snowy children in her kitchen.

So much of our fun was homemade. We had few of the advantages that children have today and certainly none of their toys. We made do, as the saying goes, with whatever was available, and let our imaginations do the rest.

Next, check out these photos that showcase the beauty of Canadian winters.

Originally Published in Our Canada