Capturing The Beauty of the Eastern Townships in Winter

When the landscape is covered by a blanket of fresh snow, Russ Hayes sets out to photograph the grand arrival of winter in Quebec's Eastern Townships.

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Photo: Russ Hayes
A “cabane à sucre” (sugar shack) near Hatley, Que.

A Wintertime Hobby

First, let me say that I am not really a “winter” person—I would rather be on a beach somewhere warm. Even though I was brought up in Calgary, close to the Rocky Mountains, I wasn’t even a skier. Winter was just something we had to endure until spring and summer arrived.

Now retired and living in Quebec, where each season is distinctly defined, you learn to live with the coldness of winter—but it helps to have a hobby or an activity to do.

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Photo: Russ Hayes
This green and red barn is located on a farm near the village of Sawyerville, Que.

Colourful Scenery

As an amateur photographer, I eagerly await the different seasons here: the beautiful new growth of spring, the macro photos of insects and flowers in summer, and the magnificent colours of a Quebec autumn.

There is a somewhat colourless period between autumn and winter that is pretty bleak for photographers, but once the snow arrives, the landscape is transformed into a clean white backdrop. These days, I can’t wait for the arrival of the grand “whiteness” of the Quebec countryside in winter.

When that first sunny day arrives, on a cold, crisp winter
morning, I head out for another photographic adventure along the backcountry roads here in the Eastern Townships. The Townships are made up of a large collection of small cities, towns and villages, all nestled in nature in the southeastern part of the province.

Check out the fascinating history of Point Claire, Quebec.

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Photo: Russ Hayes
Église de la Décollation de Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist) in Chartierville, Que.

Full of History

Even after a huge snowfall, the back roads are plowed almost immediately, making these photo runs possible. I drive slowly, in search of old agricultural buildings, churches and any landscape that looks promising. There are so many old barns and farm buildings, and I am excited when I come across each one! They all have their own unique characters, and as I photograph them I can’t help but fantasize about who may have once lived there or what the barns were specifically used for. Some structures are barely standing now, but I’m sure they’d all have a great story to tell. There are also numerous old small wooden churches in the area, each one also full of character, silhouetted against the white, snowy backdrop.

Discover the lush green oasis of Quebec’s Reford Gardens.

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Photo: Russ Hayes
A curious farm horse near Sherbrooke.

Spotting Wildlife

The Eastern Townships is a huge agricultural centre that includes dairy farming, sheep raising and fruit growing. I travel hundreds of kilometres through this region over the course of each winter, my camera always ready. Keeping an eye out for deer, I scan every fenceline, ancient tree and sprawling landscape, searching for that perfect photo.

On a couple of occasions, deer have bounded out of the woods, through the ditch, and crossed right in front of me. Luckily I drive slowly, but it still happens so quickly that I am unable to capture a photograph of them!

This is what it was like logging in Quebec in the 1940s.

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Photo: Russ Hayes
An old barn along the country road Chemin Rivière-du-Nord, near Cookshire-Eaton, Que.

Stories of the Past

I wish I knew the history of each of the old buildings. They could tell so many stories of the past, however, I am happy that I get to share these historic photos with friends and family. I find that everyone takes an interest in looking at them, viewing the images in their own way; for some, they seem to evoke fond memories of their own lives.

As the winter goes on, I eagerly await the next sunny day, and the opportunity to head out on another photographic adventure along the back roads of the beautiful and historic Eastern Townships.

Next, read about the intriguing history of Quebec’s log homes.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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