Ontario, Canada – February 2000

Fun in the Snow – Ontario’s Favourite Winter Sports
On February second, Groundhog’s Day, heir apparent Wee Willie of Wiarton proclaimed six more weeks of winter for Ontario. Wiarton’s illustrious line of weather forecasters has had a 90% accuracy rate. This means we’ve got more winter to deal with, so how do we make the best of it?

Now that it’s good and cold and there is snow cover, February is the perfect month for winter sports. There’s about a hundred of them, but I’ll outline the most popular and interesting:

Alpine skiing, Downhill skiing in Ontario is just that – skiing down hills, not mountains. If you’ve ever seen real skiing mountains, you’d laugh hysterically at the hills that Ontarians get excited about. Collingwood is among the most popular ski areas in Ontario, along with other parts along the Niagara Escarpment.

Biathlon – what the hell is that anyway? Nobody does this ever except every four years at the Olympics. Canadians inevitably win at it and it does increase our gold medal standing.

Broomball is a weird version of hockey, except instead of skates you use your shoes and you get a broom instead of a stick. There’s much loss of balance and slipping, which adds to the fun.

Curling – every Ontario town has a curling club and bonspiels (tournaments) are the definitive Ontario event on our winter social calendar. Someone slides a big metal puck down the ice and everyone else frantically sweeps the ice so it’ll go farther.

Encyclopedia Britannica proves Canada’s superiority at this sport, “World championships have been held since 1959, the Canadians usually dominating them.” If you fail to grasp the fun or strategy of this sport, contact the BootsnAll London, England correspondent who thinks it the most exciting spectator sport ever

Dog sledding – I have griped before about how an American teacher asked me if I took a dog sled to school, but I just find that anecdote so preposterous that I have to retell it constantly. I used to insist that no one dog sleds here! Over the past few years, however, more and more companies are offering dog sledding expeditions that actually sound pretty cool.

Iceboating – it’s sailing on boats with skates on them. Apparently, Ontario is in an international league, but I’ve only seen this sport done on Canadian beer commercials.

Iceclimbing – rock climbing but on ice, can be done in Thunder Bay and Collingwood. As Dean Martin might have said, “I prefer my ice with a little bourbon!”

Hockey is definitely the most popular winter sport. Even though our NHL teams are in grave danger of moving to the U.S. and they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in ages, we nonetheless love hockey. Almost every place in Ontario has one if not several hockey teams, and “Hockey Night in Canada” is still one of the most popular TV shows here.

NOTE: even if our NHL teams move to some city in Florida or South Carolina or some other absurd area, Toronto’s Maple Leafs won 11 Stanley Cups, a legacy like that no carpetbagger can take! Furthermore, we actually go see our hockey games, unlike southern U.S. places!

Ice fishing is hugely popular here, but I question it’s claim to be a sport when in fact it’s just a glorified reason to get stinking drunk. You’d have to be drunk to spend a weekend freezing your butt off in a tiny shack in the middle of a frozen lake! I do not deny that Ontarians’ relationship to winter can be quite puzzling.

Nordic Skiing – excellent trails and scenery here make this most recommendable. There’s amazing trails in almost every community. Ontario’s diverse and rugged landscape makes for a more interesting experience. Skiing in the prairie provinces would be easier, but not as much fun.

Ringette was invented by an Ontarian from North Bay and the sport used to be quite popular here for women. I believe it is a less violent form of hockey, played with a ring instead of a puck. Gotta love the name though, eh?

Skating – is popular as a leisure activity and almost every community has numerous indoor and outdoor rinks. Speed skating and figure skating are also big here, though mostly just for the pros. Precision skating is basically a bunch of women skating in a line like the Ice Capades and is also popular.

Snow frolicking – whether it’s making snow angels or pummeling your buddies with snowballs from your snow fortress, this freezing substance can be tons of fun.

Snowshoeing – basically it’s hiking on snow with a huge netted thingey on your foot. I have tried this numerous times and never been able to walk on the snow. Well, I’ve never been able to even walk as I’m frequently face first in the snow.

Snowmobiling is getting more and more popular here. Ontario has the most snowmobiles trails in the world (see last month’s article). I believe, however, that an inexpensive license must be purchased in order to use the public trails.

Snow Snake – traditional Iroquoian game played by throwing a snake (rod) along a trough of snow. I’ve only seen it on TV, but it looks fun.

Tobogganing is fun for children or adults.

You don’t need a toboggan – a crazy carpet will do, or do what I did as a kid – put on those nylon snowsuits and slide down on your keester. Snow tubing, going down in a truck’s inner-tube, is the most fun legally possible!

Winter camping – is even more insane than ice fishing as you don’t even get a shack, just “special” tents and sleeping bags. A friend of mine enjoys this activity, though admits she woke up one morning with a layer of frost on her. A word of warning: only experienced people should attempt this as temperatures can drop as low as -40°C at night.

Alqonquin Provincial Park in winter is open for winter camping as well as snowshoeing, dog-sledding, and cross-country skiing. “Yurts” – tent like cabins – with a potentially lifesaving woodstove are available but must be reserved.

All this, plus the omnipresent winter festivals here this month and into early March, make Ontario a unique and fun place to be in winter. Give some of these winter sports a try, if only to generate some heat to stop from freezing to death!

At 1,068sq. km, Ontario is Canada’s second largest province. Our northern tip is parallel to Sweden, while our southern tip is parallel to California.

Ontario is 1,600 km east to west, half the span of the United States. So needless to say, seeing all of the province can take a lifetime.

Northern Ontario comprises most of the province and is, for the most part, wilderness. In summer, this means some of the best camping in the world. In winter, I wouldn’t even think of going there.

Southern Ontario is where most people live. It’s the industrial and financial heartland of the province (and Canada). Much of the cultural attractions are in this area.

Toronto, the provincial capital, is North America’s fourth largest city. With over 100 different ethnic groups, it is considered the world’s most multicultural city.

Ottawa is the national capital and as such is the centre of Canada’s political and cultural scene.

Here’s a sample of some of the festivals occurring soon:

Niagara Falls
Valentine’s Day “Amid the winter beauty of Queen Victoria park in Niagara Falls, Ontario, one thousand couples will gather to pledge their love to one another Valentine’s Day”. It’s this kind of poignantly tacky thing that makes Niagara Falls so wonderful. (Feb. 14)

Mardi Gras on the Danforth – This is only the second time for this outdoor party. But the Danforth is now getting to be the social central for Toronto, so it should be be fun. (Feb. 19-20)

Sportsmen’s Show 2000 – Canada’s largest event of this kind. My dad used to always drag me to this, but it’s actually lots of fun. Find out more than you ever imagined about fly fishing and RVing. (Feb. 10-19)

Winterama – This traditionally French community, has Ontario’s longest running winter festival. They plan to have lumberjacks, demolition derby, cardboard toboggan races, “radar run”, and snow sculptures. (Feb.18-20)

Honey Harbour Winterfest – Famous for its national park, Honey Harbour hosts events on the ice and in the park, including a fish fry and dogsled races. (Feb. 26).

Elliot Lake
Trail Rider Poker Run – One of Northern Ontario’s largest snowmobile poker runs with a prize of $15,000. Who knew snowmobiling could be so profitable? (Feb. 26)

Snow Riders Puddle Jump – see how high people can make their beloved snowmobiles jump! (Mar. 4)

MississaugaMaple Magic – Traditional sugaring-off festival with wagon rides, and yummy pancakes. At the Bradley Museum, an 1830’s farmhouse. (March 11-19)

Ontarians obsess over the weather. Come share our obsession and find out the climate of places like Wawa and Moosonee.

About Me
I suffer from a fatal case of wanderlust. I currently live in Toronto, but I am from Guelph, ON. I have also lived in Ottawa, Key West, Florida, and Stuttgart, Germany.

I got married in October, find out the detales at my wedsite.

I work part-time for Canadian Geographic Online. If you want to give me a job, please check out my portfolio.

Special thanks to my wife, Jenn, for helping me out with this article in specific and life in general.

Check out my past articles for some further tips, such as dining, attractions, and continuing festivals.

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