Skating the lake

The unusual conditions today
I love listening to Canadians talking about winters past. Sometimes they go misty eyed when they tell you of different weather conditions they have experienced - snowshoeing under a full moon, coping with Montreal's famous ice storm or the first day of winter when you can walk out on a frozen lake. Today for instance word got round that a recent thaw and refreeze had made the lake suitable for skating.
The Canadians would not take no for an answer. This could be our only chance to skate before more snow comes.  Phone calls are made. Skates are borrowed and for the first time since I moved to Canada I got to skate the lake.
The same lake in summer.
Now usually the lake freezes at the same time as the snow comes so the ice below is hidden. We still ski, walk or snowshoe on it but today we got to really see the ice. Quite a sight. I've heard stories about another phenomenon which I am yet to see - and that is when the lake freezes before the snow falls. It then becomes glass-like and you can see fish and leaves frozen below. I'm told this happens around once every seven years and those who have seen it, swear it is one of the great sights of a Canadian winter.
Englishwoman playing hockey

Being British of course I make a lot of fuss and ask if it is really safe? The Canadians always roll their eyes and tell me skidoos have been on it and they have seen skiers going out. But have you seen them coming back? - I always ask.

Canadians. Ice. Hockey usually breaks out.

There are lots of jokes about sending the Englishwoman out first to test the ice. They tell me the ice is several feet thick - but how do you know, I ask. Where is the proof?
Eventually I stop whining and get out there, paying particular attention to cracks on the ice and asking for more evidence that we are not about to die.

Last winter. This crack went right across the lake.

 One New Year's Day we were walking on the frozen lake when we heard what I can only describe as the sound of kettle drums under the water. It's very loud and a bit scary but of course the Canadians have some sort of scientific explanation for this too. Contracting ice or some such.
Same boathouses in two seasons. Snowy lake last winter.

and again in the summer

For me winter here is a romantic season. To be able to skate on a lake in the sunshine is one of those experiences which makes the heart sing. My friend shouts at me across the ice - imagine, we are skating on ice which is completely naturally frozen. I share her sense of wonder and I don't think I'll ever lose it.
Skaters on the lake this morning

Read more wintry stuff


  1. Wow, hope it holds for my trip! Only tried skating once, but this looks like a somewhat superior experience to Streatham Ice Rink to sya the least! (Of course you know I would be even more of a cissy about it when I get there)

  2. I can't skate, but if I lived in Canada, I would most certainly learn.

  3. I learned at a rather grubby Whitley Bay ice rink as a kid, where boys in star jumpers tried to scare you by racing around really fast. It must have had an effect because every time we go on the ice I make my husband skate backwards to impress me.

  4. Beautiful, I'm *skateable* lakes near me in Toronto! (even if there were, I'd be like you and demand proof of ice thickness - and I'm Canadian!). Enjoy it while it lasts, Anne!

  5. Glad to hear it's not just the British who are sticklers for detail. This kind of stuff does make me feel lucky to be living here. Canadian winter is full of surprises.

  6. We had a lovely skate yesterday too - did the full circuit and snacks at blueberry island!

  7. Glad to hear it - I wonder how long these perfect conditions will last - snow is predicted for the weekend but not sure if that will reach the Laurentians.

  8. I love this post, Anne. Well-written and great photos, of course. But it also brings back memories of skating on a pond (it wasn't quite large enough to be a lake) near the home where I grew up outside of Chicago. The photos look so similar to that place. And I can remember very well those rumbling sounds, which usually got me off the ice quickly.

  9. Looks amazing. We are just back from the UK where weather was freezing (for us) and trees were covered in frost and snow and icicles were everywhere. Girls slid around on the the frozen pond in my mother's back garden. Not exactly skating on a lake, but they had fun nonetheless.

  10. That's cute - a frozen pond is enough for little girls I imagine. It irks me that after 40 plus years of wishing for a white Christmas the UK has developed Canadians winters since I emigrated! Typical. Glad you got to see it.

  11. This was an amazing day. We were able to skate for three days, but the third was just a touch too windy and cold for pleasure. The day after we skated with y'all, we did the length, ran into lake friends and stayed on for four hours. Amazing. The fourth day we tried again (hanging on till the last gasp) but the previous day's wind had somehow corrupted the ice (not sure how that works, but my own French-Canadian assures me that's what happened) making it too bumpy to skate. Snowstorm blew in the following day, putting an end to the wonder.

  12. ..and then, a few weekends later, a neighbor's sons cleared two rinks for his birthday as a surprise, To do this, they chopped through the ice with a hatchet and pumped water from the hole to smooth the surface of the rinks. This took several hours of work, and provided proof positive that the ice was safe - 18 inches of solid, back-breaking ice to chop though. When that was done, the Laroches came with their tractor and cleared another huge rink, so there was a weekend long lake party in front of our house, complete with mulled wine and gender-divided hockey. THAT could make a girl love winter. Wish y'all had been there...

  13. I love your (very well crafted) blog, as it rekindles memories of when I was a newcomer to Montreal, some 40 years ago. My parents lived in Beaconsfield, so my introduction to winter was a frozen Lac St. Louis. My pitiful skating skills were incomprehensible to the local kids but I did become proficient enough to fly for a couple of truly amazing miles during one memorable post thaw freeze, when the conditions were perfect. The ice yachts were also amazing to watch, although I never could quite get my head around the appeal of ice-fishing, where the real pros hauled portable TVs and heaters to their huts!

  14. Thanks Tim I think the appeal of ice fishing is beer isn't it? Actually I got the chance to join some fisherwomen on the ice (one without hut) this winter. Will be posting video on it soon.


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