For my immigrant dad, snowboarding in harsh frostbite circumstances is ‘The Actual Canadian Expertise’ — and I got here to understand what it taught me, too

Rising up in Canada, winters have been for snowboarding. Snowfalls in February meant mountain getaways in March. Whiteout storms meant recent cross-country circumstances on Ontario farm trails. My mother and father, each immigrants, got here from Eire within the early Nineteen Eighties, and my dad was particularly hell-bent on getting The Actual Canadian Expertise throughout the 12 months’s harshest, most lifeless months.

They landed in Saskatchewan, then moved west to Alberta (the place I used to be born), earlier than settling in Ontario, and for so long as I can keep in mind, we at all times stored a rack of skis in our storage. My dad would have examined out this quintessential Canadian pastime with colleagues shortly after his arrival. I discovered to carve S-shapes on bunny slopes within the Rockies within the mid-’90s, my hot-pink pixie hat flying like a flag within the wind.

Despite the fact that I loved the Narnia-like trails and the joys of rushing down mountains, I generally resented our ski adventures. I froze on chairlifts in -30°C. I misplaced stability on Ontario’s frosted rolling hills and crashed. I struggled to stroll in ski boots, essentially the most cursed footwear that has ever existed. Generally on cross-country trails, I couldn’t get right into a rhythmic glide and I’d wipe out within the bushes, lowered to a tangle of poles and skis flailing in a snow drift.

In the meantime, my classmates have been thawing out on seashores in Mexico and the Caribbean — an thought I thought-about clearly superior, but fully misplaced on my dad.

They’d return residence bronzed and glowing, passing round seashells on the primary day after winter break. They confirmed pictures of annoyingly excellent sandcastles because the names of tropical locations — Dominican, Jamaica, Cuba — rolled off their tongues.

Writer Sinead Mulhern (right), with her father, Gerry, and brother Ronan in Mont-Tremblant, Que., in the early 2000s.

Actual Canadians go to the seashore in winter! I usually thought to myself. Actual Canadians drank pineapple juice. They noticed starfish and crabs on the shore. They caught waves and tasted saltwater on their lips. They sifted sand via their fingers whereas I used to be making an attempt to blow the sensation again into mine. They snorkeled. That they had swimsuit tan traces. I, alternatively, had a windburnt face — purple in all places, other than the place my goggles had been, like a uncommon breed of raccoon.

It’s not that I didn’t love our afternoons in winter’s playground, however the feeling was love-hate. I’d have gladly swapped the ice-cream trails for granulated-sugar seashores.

I’m embarrassed by the brattiness of this now — that I didn’t acknowledge how fortunate I used to be to have holidays in any respect, to have expensive winter gear and the entry to outside areas and actions that others didn’t.

With age, I grew to understand that my dad’s enthusiasm to be actually Canadian meant that I acquired an out of doors ability most of my associates didn’t have, a respect for nature’s components and a approach to get pleasure from our frostbitten yard. I had a basis for loving the outside and all its curve balls — which might come to serve me properly as I turned extra captivated with exploring the world.

Greater than three years in the past, I moved to Ecuador, the place I now miss and brag concerning the precise factor my preteen self resented. Look, that is close to my home,” I’ll usually say to associates in awe of snow, exhibiting off photos of Ontario’s winter wonderland, of a area underneath a thick white quilt, lined with frosted evergreens. How chilly is it?” they’d ask, shuddering as they tried to think about.

This month, I returned residence for the primary time because the pandemic began. I flew to Toronto — skipping proper over the Caribbean — particularly for the snow. With the spectre of Omicron, I received’t be hopping via the trendiest bars and eating places that popped up in my absence, however irrespective of. In my time away, I’ve grown to overlook watching marshmallows soften in mugs of scorching chocolate after freezing afternoons exterior, and rediscovering my yard on skis.

My dad spent years in pursuit of an genuine Canadian expertise, and now, throughout a second when far-flung journey (together with these seashore holidays I as soon as envied) is on maintain, his mindset is extra related than ever: there’s a lot already at residence, simply ready to be appreciated.

The federal authorities recommends Canadians keep away from non-essential journey. This text is supposed to encourage plans for future journey.


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