I’m a believer in the science and the reality of global warming. That’s the engineering graduate talking. But I don’t actually need reams of data, scientific symposia, and time-lapse photographs of diminished glaciers to be convinced.
My own memories of Leaside winters suffice to confirm that temperatures are rising. When I was growing up in Leaside in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we actually had winter, we had snow – lots of it – and it was a blast.
Now, my memory may not be as good as it once was but it seems to me that snow came much earlier and stayed much longer back then than it does now. I think we used have snow on the ground in early November. Not so much anymore. My twin bro and I loved it. Three winter pastimes in particular kept us happy and outside – which, I think, made our mother happy.
In every other season but winter, the lunchtime walk from Bessborough School to our house at the corner of Parkhurst and Donegall took us about 10 minutes, provided we weren’t stopping to throw mud balls at the inviting front doors of homes along the way. But in winter, my mother would often be ready to send out a search party until we’d finally roll in about 20 minutes past our typical ETA.
The difference? Starting in November, the snow banks grew along the edge of the sidewalks thanks to quite prompt snowplowing of our neighbourhood. And when you have four or five blocks of four-foot high snow banks along your route home, it was standard operating procedure to walk along the top ridge of this seasonal mountain range.
Every winter lunch hour I felt like Sir Edmund Hillary on the Everest ascent. By extension, I felt like Tim was my trusty second, Tenzing Norgay. I don’t think he always appreciated being relegated to the number two position. This conflict added more time to our voyage home. Now I’m not saying walking along the tops of snow banks right next to Parkhurst Blvd. was the safest way to get home. But we were careful and it was fun.
Speaking of unsafe winter activities, we also loved tobogganing down the famed and feared double hill in Talbot Park across the football field from Leaside High School. We’d head there Saturday morning after a fresh snowfall and spend a good part of the day alternating between flying down the hill and flying above the hill. You see, Tim and I were big jump builders. We’d bring a shovel and build up as high a jump as we could about halfway down the second hill. We strategically placed the jump at the point on the hill where our aluminum toboggan would hit maximum velocity (just shy of Warp 7). We would soar off the jump and land just before the bottom. My tailbone aches just thinking about it, now. Saturday dinner was usually enjoyed standing up.
If the snow was fluffy and not conducive to jump-making, we’d attempt the world tobogganing distance record. One day when the conditions were perfect, Tim and I hurtled down the double hill, streaked – and I use “streaked” in the traditional sense of the word, as temperatures were below zero – across the football field, up the small rise at the far side, and crashed into the wall of the school. Well, crashed is slightly overstating our speed, but it was at least a modest bump. We had a very fast toboggan.
Finally, in that era of a real winter, there was always an outdoor hockey pad and pleasure skating rink in the middle of Talbot Park, underneath the bright lights of the baseball diamond. If the rink had been flooded on a Friday night, Saturday morning hockey took precedence over tobogganing. We’d get up at what we thought was a reasonable hour – a view seldom shared by our parents – tie up our skates in the basement, and then tip-toe down to the park to preserve the sharp edges on our skate blades. We’d actually skate down the hill at the foot of Donegall and clump our way through the snow to the hockey rink. The sound of our blades on the pristine ice and the dull thump of our pucks against the boards remain vivid audio memories. Sometimes we’d head home at lunch, but only to refuel before returning to the rink until the streetlights came on.
Those were real Leaside winters. We’re lucky to have survived them. But I miss them.