The Winter of Quebec

It's raining right now and it is pitter-pattering on my air conditioner just outside the window I am sitting next to. Maybe the rain is trying to wake the air conditioner with hopes of summer even as we hear of another snow coming our way. (ok, high in the mountains – but I can see the mountains from here.)

When I was a young Air Force wife, we were stationed in Val d'Or, Quebec, a little village about a thousand miles north of Detroit. To get there we went from Peru, Indiana, just south of Chicago, east to Toronto, next to Montreal, and then a wide circle north and back west on a little national park road until we rounded a corner, and there was our new home for the next two years. In the “bush” as they called it – kind of like in the jungle or in the wild or in the plains. In the bush.

Moose sightings were more common then pets. And everyone spoke French and the French didn't like the English-speaking Canadians, like they were somehow traitors in this province squashed on two sides by English-speaking provinces. And the French made a new policy that year, 1973, to from this day forward only speak French. They tolerated English-speaking Americans I guess because we couldn't help it that we came from a primitive land where French was only taken in high school to fulfill the college entrance requirement of two years of [any] foreign language. I didn't know a word of French.

I learned to only mix with the English-speaking – whether from America or from Canada. I discovered a Newberries a mile away in downtown Val d'Or and near it a Kentucky Poulet Frit. I would survive by saying the few words I could muster, poorly, like merci. I was the politest foreigner they ever saw.

Ah, the title – Winter – well, you see, we all complain about one.more.snow in the Pacific Northwest and you ain't seen nothing yet! It started snowing in the middle of October and we were told that was late. It continued to snow, and snow, and snow until the snow came up to the bottom of our balcony of our second floor apartment. Earlier my toddler would have great fun tossing toys one by one into the yard below and then watching either Mummy or Daddy scurry down the stairs and gather them up again. In Winter, we only had to reach over the railing and pull them in.

Everyone had snow blowers – and paths were made from front doors to the street, from back doors to the cars. After a few months of this activity, hallways would form that were ten feet tall. Every car was parked next to its own individual electric post that connected to a little heater that was placed in with the engine so the engine wouldn't freeze. It was regularly 30 below zero for weeks on end. The car always started but all the tires would have a frozen flat spot and the car would wobble slowly down the road until they thawed, like some wintery Disney ride.

There was a large meadow (maybe, I never really saw the ground) between my apartment building and a tiny French grocery store. I would walk across the field on top of the snow – the ice crust was so thick.

People decorated their bushes and trees with big old fashioned Christmas lights and then poured water over them and had instant sculptures with fuzzy lights blinking inside. It was magical!

Snow mobiles and moose abounded – and some literally bounded – leaping across the “hallways” built up by the snow. So – when you left your apartment, you looked both ways right off the bat for the meandering moose or the roaring snow mobile.

My second child was born April 30, 1974 and we were back home a couple days later (nice nurses kept me longer because I already had a baby at home and they said “she needs her rest” in broken English to my Air Force husband, who really, REALLY wanted baby sitting relief – another story). Snow still piled high, roads still packed a foot higher.

In June, this fantastic “parade” started in front of my house. There was a truck/tractor going down the road, chopping at the packed snow on the road. Following that gizmo was another truck with a plow that scooped up squares at least a foot thick of packed snow and lifted the blocks up and over itself to be dumped into a third vehicle behind. This continued for several days and on June 10, 1974, I was able to take my baby out in his stroller for a “spring” walk.

I always wondered if there weren't some igloo mansion being made just outside of town.



Bottles Barbies & Boys said...

Wish I had a moose for a pet, how cool would that be!

Sounds like you've had an exciting life.

Anonymous said...

I served in the USAF and was there from 1968 through Aug 1970. Single and it was a blast.

Det 6 425 MMS (Aircop)

JeanieSpokane said...

Anonymous - we just missed you, by a couple years. It was a great place! I loved having the "resort" to ourselves.

Anonymous said...


It took me a bit to get over the culture shock as I was a Virginia homeboy. But from the fishing to the winter festivals, it really went into a lifetime of memories. Wish I had been more adept with a camera then. Were the Voodoos still in operation when you were there? Was the Chateau Inn still going?

JeanieSpokane said...

No Voodoos - but the Chateau Inn was still there. I did have a small time mafia guy upstairs from me. He lifted weights in his living room and I always wondered if he wasn't killing someone instead. Kaklunk Kaklunk over and over at weird times during the night. {shudder}