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.

Some of you have been to my neighborhood (and even stayed in my home in fact) during the summer months.

If you walk one block to the south, through the alley behind the Rona hardware store (in French, hardware store is called a quincaillerie, which I have yet to learn to pronounce), and then across the street you arrive at the Dairy Queen. Dangerously close to our house, if you ask me.

Ice cream shops in Montreal close from mid-fall through late spring. I suppose the ice cream shops in the many underground malls downtown stay open, but the neighborhood shops close. I like this.

In the month of December our local Dairy Queen is converted into a Christmas tree sales lot. I like this also.

I don't know how these arrangements get made, who owns the Dairy Queen, how the Christmas tree sellers find places to set up shop. But it makes so much sense.

In late November, I'll be walking to go get produce on Beaubien or pick up a book at the library on Rosemont and I'll walk past the parking lot, fence and wooden stands in place, empty, getting ready for Christmas.

And then the next time I am walking by, it might be later that week or the next, trees have appeared, as if by magic. To be sold to neighbors, living in these two and half story apartments, side-by-side, row upon row.

We're not getting a tree this year. We're going to Nova Scotia for Christmas and I don't want to spend the money, time or make the space necessary in our apartment to put up a tree when we won't be here for a good portion of our Christmas holiday.

But I can appreciate the trees in the neighborhood. The ones being sold by Le Père Sapin and the ones decorated in front of apartments and storefronts.

I am like the boy in this favorite mural of mine, also a feature of the Dairy Queen parking lot. Arms wide open to the beauty that is the month of December.

Damien and I have been exploring the city on bikes lately. We are just starting to tap into the hundreds of kilometers of bike lanes and trails through the city.

Last summer I did a lot of Bixi riding and this year I'm using one of our own bikes. I'm familiar with my neighborhood bike lanes and getting places I want to go locally but I'm super excited to be exploring the city together with Damien.

You can read more about it in Damien's One Day a Week journal. A new chapter is opening for us in our adventuring, pursuing activities as a couple instead of as a family. It's a good thing.

Sainte Catherines on the iphone

local Ukrainian Orthodox church

I've tried taking photos on these weekend adventures but I find my best city photography is done on foot. I hope to improve my cycling photography, which is mostly a matter of stopping to actually take photos of all the beauty I'm experiencing as we bike.

My dad took us out for supper on St. Denis during his visit

Montreal in late summer is just fabulous. I think summer in the city is great also, but this year I was enjoying travel to other places.

By late summer the intense humidity that sometimes plagues Montreal in the summer has mostly broken. Which is nice because the free public pools are closed for the season. Street festivals are still happening, though they're slowly winding down. And the back to school season brings a special energy into the downtown core where universities abound.

We'll be exploring some of those universities this fall as our kids consider their future schooling options, but right now we're still doing summer. Summer on the sidewalks, summer on our bikes, summer soccer, summer markets, summer in the city.

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