I grew up in rural Alberta. Which is to say, I grew up skating.

skating in montreal

In my experience, even if you weren't enrolled in extracurricular skating programs like hockey or figure skating, every kid learned to skate in elementary school in gym class. There wasn't a reliable outdoor rink at my school but we walked the 10 minutes or so to the arena, near the high school and civic centre, and we had our skating classes there.

Damien learned to skate as a child also, growing up likewise in rural Alberta, close to the Rocky Mountains. He was in hockey for a bit and his family lived in the country and they skated on a pond. He didn't like hockey, skating was ok, but snowboarding was his real love and winter sport passion.

skating in montreal

As we grew up and moved away from "home", making new homes in first New Jersey and then Maine, we grew out of skating. By the time our children were at the learn-to-skate age, skating did not factor into our lives. There were one or two winters in Maine where I took the kids skating at the indoor arena at the liberal arts college where Damien worked. Not too cold, good ice and good company; we'd go during Damien's lunch break and he'd meet us at the rink.

skating in montreal

When we moved to the Gaspe Peninsula five years ago, we introduced our family to skiing and it's been our winter sport ever since.

Last year was my first winter living in Montreal and I learned that skating abounds here, in a way I haven't experienced anywhere else I've lived. The city and neighborhoods ensure that skating is an accessible winter sport to city residents. Outdoor rinks pop up all over the city. Two exist within a 10 minute walk from our apartment. One is a full size hockey rink with boards and nets. The other is a "loop" of ice in a nearby park. This one includes a trailer with skates you can borrow (for free) and a blue porty-potty in case you just gotta go. (I'll walk home thanks.)

skating in montreal

We're not hockey players and we're still newbies on our skates so we stick to the park where parents and grandparents teach the toddlers to skate with the PVC pipe frames that you can also borrow from the trailer.

skating in montreal

As a child I learned to skate by pushing around a folding chair. People here do that too, arriving at the park with a folding chair under their arms, a snow-suited preschooler in tow.

I never did get skates last year, but this year I vowed to make it happen. It was one of those non-negotiables on my winter to-do list. I don't know how long I'll live in Montreal, so I want to make the most of what the city has to offer.

skating in montreal

Because we don't have a lot of experience with skating and I'm not sure Brienne and Laurent's feet are done growing, and because I wanted to just go somewhere and get the right skates, for the right price, I opted to rent skates this year from Poubelle de ski on Boulevard Saint Laurent; the place where thousands of Montrealers outfit their families for winter sports by renting equipment, at reasonable prices, for the season.

If the kids, one of those kids is nearly an adult now (gulp), decide they want to continue skating we'll look at buying skates next year but this was a good way to re-introduce everyone back to the sport.

skating in montreal

The kids have gone skating in the afternoons, as the weather permits. And for Brienne's belated birthday party I brought a gaggle of girls here also.

Lucky for me, Celine and I can share the same size (if I wear an extra thick sock) so I've been borrowing her skates. It's been about 10 years since I've been on skates but I have a childhood bank of muscle memory and experience to drawn on, it's coming back to me slowly. And I wear my ski helmet, the only adult at the park to do so, in case I lose my footing.

The weather in the city has not been conducive to skating for the last week or so. Warming temperatures, then freezing rain and slushy snow, but it looks like some cold days are coming, for which I am grateful. (After publishing this post I came across this video of someone skating on the street this past week in Montreal. I guess conditions were ok, on that one day at least, for skating after all. Just not for driving or walking!)

skating in montreal

All over the country people are skating this time of year. They are skating in arenas, and on ponds, they are skating on outdoor rinks flooded and maintained by civic-minded volunteers and municipal employees.

skating in montreal

I live in a vast northern land that is often divided by politics, in a country where it is hard to find a cohesive center across great geographical and cultural distance. The gift of my experience growing up in the European immigrant settled, English-speaking rural west, and living now as I do in francophone Quebec, in the heart of Canada's most cosmopolitan city, is how intimately I understand these tensions. I often ask myself, "what ties it all together besides Tim Hortons?"

Maybe it's skating.

Nearly every week in the summer I shop at Jean Talon market. (I know, it's mid-September. But for me, it's still summer.)

The market is one of my favorite errands/shopping runs. I have to buy the rest of our groceries at the usual places: Costco, health food stores (my favorite health food stores are the shops found around the perimeter of Jean Talon), and the regular grocery store; but the market is the place that brings me the most joy when I shop. I almost always take photos when I'm there, either with my camera or my phone. It's just so beautiful.

This time of year the market is bursting with colors and produce. Like I said on Instagram this week, "I call this Italian season at the market. Italian Nonnas abound buying tomatoes by the bushel baskets. People are seen pushing large carts stacked with boxes of tomatoes and cucs to their cars. It's fun to watch and be a part of."

This past week I made a ratatouille inspired by this recipe (if Arnold Schwarzenegger had a YouTube cooking channel). My family liked it. Brienne, who doesn't like eggplant or zucchinis told me it was really good.

I also prepared what has become a traditional late summer meal at our home, a pot of roasted tomato soup, you can find that recipe here. I get a lot of positive feedback on that recipe, so if you like tomato soup you might want to try it.

I know gardeners whose goal is to eat exclusively from their own produce through the summer months. My goal is to eat locally grown produce through summer, wherever I am traveling or living. And it is completely possible in Montreal to eat a wide variety of exclusively Quebec grown produce through the summer months.

I am grateful for the climate, culture and history of Quebec, along with the strong local food movement and sheer large number of consumers in Montreal, that makes this possible.

Lots of local produce is available in regular grocery stores (yay!) but for me the best selection and price, not to mention beauty is found at Jean Talon.

This post is part of the summer stories.

Today's Story: Bixi

One of the things I love about Montreal is how bike-friendly the city is.

Designated bike lanes abound and you don't even have to own a bike, you can subscribe to the bike sharing service called Bixi. Bixi is a combination (a portmanteau) of the words bicycle and taxi, though there isn't much taxi-like about the service.

Bixi stations exist all over the city, especially in the city core and surrounding arrondissements. There is one a couple blocks from our house. The Bixi app is an indispensable tool in finding these Bixi stations.

We purchased a Bixi subscription which gives us a "key" we can use to unlock a Bixi bike from the station. We are then required to return that bike to a Bixi station, anywhere in the city, within 45 minutes.

What this means is that we can't take the bikes out of the Bixi service range for hours and hours. Well, we could, we just would be charged extra money. However, after you return one bike you can use your key to pull out another. So, although one ride can only last 45 minutes you can keep exchanging bikes at the stations for as long as your trip takes you.

Our subscription key allows us unlimited bike access, with each ride a maximum duration of 45 minutes.

If you are just visiting and don't need a season, half-season, or monthly subscription you can also get a one-trip rental, 24 hour or 72 hour rental period. (Again you have to return the bike to the Bixi station after x amount of minutes, but you can pull another bike out if you have time left on your rental period.)

We didn't ride bikes when we lived on the peninsula and as the kids have outgrown their old bikes we haven't replaced them. Which means we landed in Montreal with one serviceable bike that is an ok fit for the kids and I, as we're all about the same height. We got that bike all tuned up so at least one of us could hop on a bike to get around our neighborhood and the city but with the Bixi service we haven't even used that bike.

We're not a biking family, and the only people who really want to bike are Damien and I. So we share the Bixi key. I use it when I want to get out on my own, when I want/need to go to the Plateau or downtown. Damien uses it almost every other day as part of his "commute" home from whichever Starbucks he worked at that morning. (Damien is self-employed and works at home but goes out every morning to work in a cafe environment as a change of pace and also as a destination for getting exercise.)

The bikes are kind of heavy and only have three speeds but I love the freedom of the Bixi. You don't have to lock and unlock your own bike, you just "pull up" to the Bixi station.

I fell in love with Bixi this summer but I also just fell in love with biking in Montreal in general. To bike in Montreal you don't need a special cycling "uniform". You don't need to dress like a cyclist.

People bike with babies, dogs, musical instruments, veggies, and even furniture. People bike wearing shorts, skirts, high heels, and black dresses.

When you get on a bike in Montreal you wear whatever you're wearing, to go wherever you're going, to do whatever it is you need to do. And if you think the right pant leg of your business suit might get caught in the chain you secure it with an elastic around your calf. Cycling is the means, not the end. (Except for the athletic cyclists who you do see cycling for the sport.)

I know some of you have considered visiting Montreal. If you do, Bixi is a fabulous way to get around the city. It's cheaper than transit, and you see so much more of the city when you bike than when you drive. And it's just so much fun.

Can't comment?

My sincere apologies if you have problems commenting here. Feel free to shoot me an email or engage at Facebook.