We've all heard tales of the Montreal winter. People talk about it in whispers, as if the-season-that-must-not-be-named is an endless tunnel devoid of light and happiness.
Sometime in fall, as the legend goes, when all the tourists have left, Montreal is stripped of its Parisian garb, exposing the bare, cold bones underneath. The wind starts to blow. We Montrealers wrap ourselves in layers of beaver pelts and retreat into the caves beneath our apartments, leaving only to play hockey. In March, we emerge, haggard, muttering "foooodddd" "fooooodddd"….
I have news. The-season-that-must-not-be-named is only feared by people who have never spent a winter in Montreal. That's right, I said it – winter. It’s the time of year when we Montrealers showcase our renowned magical abilities: everything we touch turns to cool. So you can stick us in a snowbank, wrap us in 14 layers, sprinkle our eyelashes with snow, and we will make it look glamorous. Not convinced? Well here are some of the other enviable things Montrealers do to keep warm:
#1. Go to Igloofest
Igloofest does not happen in an Igloo. If it did, the collectively generated heat would make it melt. Cue PandemoniumFest as the the icy roof would collapse onto our heads. But fear not! Igloofest, takes place at the Quai Jacques Cartier in the Old Port, under the vast winter sky. Starting this year on January 17th and lasting four weekends, it features an incredible line-up of electro-obsessed DJs, psychedelic light shows, beers and mulled wine, a bar and seating made entirely of ice, and that priceless feeling that you get when you wiggle your toes in your little booties and realize that dancing the snowsuit stomp has warmed them up. Last year the event attracted about 60,000 people, many in neon one-piece snowsuits.
#2. Go see a Christmassy show
Nothing makes one feel warmer than a little Fa La La. Sure, it would get annoying if it lasted all winter, but the Christmas spirit is a great way to help usher in the cold weather. Handel's Messiah, performed every year by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra at the Notre Dame Basilica, delivers that dose of epic that we all like to have once in a while. I mean, what's Christmastime without a bit of the ol’ Hallelujah chorus? You can also take in the Montreal Jubilation Choir or the Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s Nutcracker at Place des Arts. And you can always get a group of friends together and go carolling. Don't know any of the songs? Sing some Top 40 and replace "Love" with "Christmas".
If you google "Montreal winter activities" or something similar, you get a ridiculous amount of information about snowshoeing. I have never seen anyone snowshoe, so I'm no help there. But what you can do is go to Park Lafontaine and skate or Mont Royal and toboggan to your heart's content. In fact, why limit yourself? All of Montreal is a mountain, so pick a street that runs north to south, check for cars, and slide from Sherbrooke St. down to René Levesque Blvd! Build a snowman, build a fort, get a sled dog, whatever. You'll soon realize that the warmest days are the magical snowy days, so don't be a curmudgeon – make the most of them.
#4 Watch Hockey
And when you're done tobogganing or searching for the fabled snowshoers, come back inside, grab a beer, and watch the game! We may be big hockey players, but we Montrealers are even more avid hockey watchers. Winter means sitting in front of a TV and watching hockey, yelling about hockey, having a beer, and yelling even louder about hockey. So cheer the Montreal Canadiens on with your friends! And if you get the chance, go cheer them on at the Bell Centre. You'll never get to witness such frenzy and feverish fandom anywhere else.
#5 Stay up for Nuit Blanche
Instead of living entirely indoors, Montrealers often meander around outside in winter like they would during the summer. Think of it as a sort of symbolic finger to the cold. Hence everyone's favourite night, ever: Nuit Blanche. It caps the Montreal High Lights Festival, and lasts from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m. The 2013 edition is set to take place on March 2. Isn't staying up all night like, a Montreal thing anyway? Yup. But take your #MontrealLifestyle2013 to the next level and indulge in some of the 200+ musical, sports, culinary, and cultural activities offered around town for this one night only. The planetarium, followed by some swing dancing, then an art gallery, some swimming, and then a free stack of pancakes? YESPLEASE. Or just ride the metro all night, because you can.
What? You doth protest. This isn't an activity! Well, listen: it's up to you. You can either be like Mary Poppins and sing songs and view your chores as a game and then hold onto an umbrella and fly away, or not. Because either way, you're going to be doing more of this than all the other suggested activities combined. Picture this: your alarm rings at 6 a.m. You look out the window. "Yay snow! I love snow!" you exclaim. "Oh, where's my car? Buried in the snowbank? No problem! Allow me to fetch my trusty shovel and bail it out!" [15 minutes later] "Ouf, ahhh, I'm feeling the burn! My arms are getting toned, my back is stronger, I've never felt so alive! " … Or just pay someone to do it and sleep in.
#7 Get a bike messenger to deliver a package
Think you have it bad? You don’t! Because no matter what you have to do in winter, the shovelling, the 5 minutes of waiting outside for the bus on your way to work, nothing will ever be as bad as being a bike messenger. The ultimate I-can-make-anything-look-cool job, nothing excites messengers more than the challenge of lasting through winter. But think about it: these guys are riding 50+ km every day to deliver your packages through ice, hail, sleet, -30c weather, and they're doing it in shorts and a t-shirt (just kidding). But really. Respect. They kick winter's butt. So if you want to feel better about yourself, get one of them to deliver a package for you and smile as they ride off into the blizzard.
#8 Party like it’s 1990-something summer
Montrealers know how to stay warm, and most of this involves being just as compulsively social as in the summer. Hence my theory about the advent of our at-home hangout culture that you won’t find in other cities. If you're in London or Dublin, for example, you always meet at the pub. In Montreal we hang out at bars too, except when it gets so cold that you start making deals with your friends about who gets to leave the house: "Naw, man, I went to your place yesterday, you come here." Somehow not hanging out is never seen as an option, so people hibernate in groups of friends that trade comfort food in mason jars. But don't get me wrong. If there's a party, and someone knows someone who knows someone who is going, we'll be there. But drinks at my place, first.
#9 Travel through the underground city: RÉSO
Montreal is an island (I'm sure I'm not the first to notice this) which means there’s only so much room. So people have had the genius idea of making it even larger and winter-friendly by expanding downwards. There are over 32 km of passages in Montreal's underground city, and they connect things like the Eaton Centre, Bell Centre, seven metro stations, many hotels, and apartments. Fun Fact: when I was studying at Dawson College I had a friend whose apartment complex was linked to the underground city. She could take the subway to school and never go outside. She didn’t own a coat. So if you are averse to fresh air, it is possible to avoid it altogether.
#10 Get out of the city
The 'burbs of Montreal are seriously fun in the wintertime. Trust me. I know. I grew up there.
You can go skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, zip-lining, ice climbing, dog sledding, or paintballing in Mont Tremblant, for example. You’re into less strenuous activities? Go to a sugar shack! A staple in quebecois culture, we celebrate the sugaring off season with gusto every year. The season is pretty short, lasting only a month or so around March, but it’s worth it to have maple taffy on snow, dance to traditional quebecois music, and maybe go on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. And then you swim in large vats of maple syrup. Trust me. I know. I grew up there.
#10 b) No, really. Get out of the city.
Look, let's get real. All our grandparents just take off to Florida. It's seriously teeming with old Quebecers. So we won't judge you if you skip town, but we'll drink all your rum while you're gone.