When I was in the throes of research for my novel, I went to Batoche, Saskatchewan. In the summer. When tourists go. When it’s habitable. Because the climactic events leading up to the North-West Resistance took place during a frigid March/April/May in 1885, I briefly pondered visiting Batoche in the winter to experience sub-zero weather on the prairies.
“What the hell for?” asked my father (who grew up there). He lives on Vancouver Island now, but remembers the minus forty degree winters of Saskatchewan quite vividly.
“So I can see the Saskatchewan River frozen,” I said, imagining the snow covered vast open prairie, the majestic river in its icy sleep. How could I write convincingly about the Metis’ lives during long winters in log cabins with no insulation and breaking ice to haul their drinking water up the cutbanks, if I didn’t experience it myself?
Turns out I don’t have to go to Batoche for a frigid experience. Toronto is colder right now than Northern Saskatchewan. This winter is not quite as brutal as last year’s Polar-Vortex-That-Wouldn’t-Leave, but it’s mind numbing just the same.
As I layer on my Gore-tex wind pants and Canada Goose parka, I wonder how my ancestors survived in this kind of weather without modern winter outerwear. They had buffalo coats until the 1870s, then Hudson’s Bay Company blanket coats and rabbit fur lined moccasins, but how does one keep the face warm enough without a fleece turtleneck thingey?
This guy does not look ready to face a minus 40 celsius wind chill prairie storm with blowing snow. But I’m betting he did.
The Metis didn’t have Netflix or macaroni and cheese or tequila shots or a bakery at the end of the street that sells salted caramel chocolate cupcakes.
Drinking and eating comfort food is about the only way modern Canadians survive winter. My grandma always told us grandkids that all they ate in the winter (after the larder stores of potatoes and root vegetables were depleted) was salt pork and bannock. And copious amounts of tea. Hardly comfort food in my books.
Could you survive minus thirty degree Celsius weather without a down coat, Netflix, tequila, or cupcakes?Share: