Winter in Southwestern Québec can seem interminable. By early November the leaves have all fallen and the days become grayer and shorter.
With December comes the snow, making for picturesque scenery that warms the heart just in time for the holidays. Ahh lovely, isn’t it?
During a normal winter the cold and snow intensify through January. Buoyed by a post-Holiday high as well as an understanding and a grudging acceptance that it is winter and we live in Canada, we trudge along through the worst of it in relatively good spirits.
But by the time February comes along, quite frankly we’ve all had enough of the cold and the white sh*t. Those who can, escape to the southern U.S. or the Caribbean for a week or two of sun and warmth. The rest of us? Well we endure and hang our hopes ever so gingerly on the fact that the days are getting noticeably longer, as we pray for an early spring.
So what keeps us all from going batsh*t stircrazy and hacking away at each other with hockey sticks or worse, axes like a snow-bound Jack Nicholson in The Shining?
Well if you can’t flee the weather and you want to survive without strangling someone, you learn how to embrace it. Hence the abundance of outdoor winter festivals in our part of the world.
Just about every city, town, or village from Ottawa to Québec City and from the U.S. border north to the ski hills of the Laurentian mountains has its own festival designed to get people outdoors to face the cold head-on and shake off the winter blues.
This year we decided to check out the Festi-Glace winter festival in the town of Joliette, in the Lanaudière region, about 40 minutes drive northeast of Montréal.
The entire festival which operates on weekends from late January through mid-February revolves around a primary activity: ice skating on the frozen L’Assomption river which runs through the heart of the town.
The town maintains a 4.5 km (2.8 mile) stretch of the river for skating, with a center divider and a walking path along the outside edge for non-skaters.
Depending on the weather, the river usually opens for skating by mid-January and stays open as long as the ice is safe, often until early March.
The one disapointment is that we didn’t see any places that offered skate rentals; not a problem if you have your own, but not very practical for those who don’t skate regularly. Mind you a leisurely walk on a frozen river is still a very nice way to spend a mild winter day.
During the festival there’s a temporary stage set up on the river where you can enjoy live performances by a local circus troupe.
There are stands and kiosks spread out at various points where local producers allow visitors to sample their wares such as pulling freshly-poured hot maple syrup from the snow with a stick. A favourite for kids of all ages.
They even have a makeshift miniature hockey rink set up for those who want to try a pick-up game of boot hockey which is played without skates.
There are activities for the whole family, and on the relatively mild -12C day we were there, it seemed like a good portion of the town’s population was out on the ice with us.
However on an outdoor rink that loops for a total of 9 km of skating surface, the crowds thin out once you get away from the visitors centers, and you’ll quickly discover that there really is room for everyone; even four-legged family members.
Though some are naturally a little better dressed for the weather than others 🙂
For those interested in a little après-skate, there is even an ice-bar right on the river that offers a selection of snacks, and also serves soft-drinks, beer and liquor, as well as a selection of fortified coffees. Perhaps a nice hot cup of dark-roast with some Honey Jack Daniels in it? Mmmm.
Of course in 2015 the ice-bar seating area has to be set up for WiFi
If you’re in the Montréal area and are looking for a weekend winter activity to get you outdoors for a few hours of fun, there’s nothing more authentically Canadian than skating on a frozen river, and the L’Assomption River in Joliette, is definitely worth checking out.