Some of you might find it cliché or stereotypical that the winter plays into my earliest memory of life in Canada.
But I can’t deny it: The very first thing I remember with any clarity is someone (presumably my mother) carrying me out to a vehicle in a snowfall, with a man (presumably my father) saying, clearly, “All right, here we go!”
Considering I was born on September 25, 1972, and my first “baby memory” is a snowy day, that should confirm that the winter was going to play a significant role in this Canadian’s life, as it does in all Canadians’ lives.
This is not to say we don’t enjoy and embrace winter. Of course we do. From Charlottetown’s Jack Frost Festival to the legendary Carnaval de Quebec and the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Skating Rink,” Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, to say nothing of countless others, we’ve encouraged each other to brave the cold and enjoy winter’s transformation of our home and native land.
And, from a purely jingoistic Canadian standpoint, you can’t have hockey without winter.
Still, as I contemplate the fact that winter snow kicked off my lifetime of Canadian moments, I’m reminded of the 1986 book The Complete Cynic’s Guide To Canadian Humour, which included a section of “Canadian Lists” that followed up the “Top Ten Canadian Lies” with the “One Great Canadian Truth”:
Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.
Translation: “My country isn’t a country, it’s winter.”
This, of course, is the defining lyric in “Mon Pays,” arguably the signature song for Quebec artist Gilles Vigneault. Originally written for the soundtrack of the 1965 National Film Board production La neige a fondu sur la Manicouagan, it has become such a beloved piece of French-Canadian music that it even surfaced as an anthem of sorts for the Quebec separatist movement, though not with the same fervour that embraced Vigneault’s “Gens du pays.“ (I note with some interest that neither song actually instructs its listeners to start their own country.)
An even more bizarre note: The melody of “Mon Pays” found its way into an international disco (yes, disco) hit for New Brunswick native Patsy Gallant, who rode “From New York To L.A.” to the top of the charts in Canada, the U.K. and Australia. You can listen to From New York to L.A. here, so you’ll have something to distract you the next time you’re out shovelling that Canadian snow.
Or you can listen to other songs about the Canadian weather, such as this 2014 ditty from The Arrogant Worms, a tribute to “Newfoundland Weather” by one of The Rock’s finest singer-songwriters, Colleen Power, or maybe even a number by the grown-up version of that baby boy who opened his eyes to the snow back in 1972, “The Nova Scotia Weather Song.”
(Footnote: I would not have known about “From New York To L.A.” without my wife Cathy, who survived the Great Canadian Disco Era of the ’70s and lived to tell about it. Thanks, honey.)