Montreal's long winter nights during the pandemic

It felt sometimes like we were the only ones in the world

A man shovels snow during a winter storm in Canada. Reuters
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It snowed on April 1 in Montreal. It should not snow anywhere on April 1, even though I know it has happened before. This is our third winter in the country and we had a low of -6C the following day. There was a cold snap in mid-March as well, with temperatures down to -15C and real feel of -20C – I think. It does not really matter when it gets that cold. It did not help that the cold snap was book ended by pleasant spring days, which offer a glimpse of Montreal's spring and summer potential, only to take it away in an instant.

The transition from winter to spring in Montreal is a bit Sisyphean. Winter, having lasted from mid to late November to March, is like an overbearing guest who gets into an argument at the end of a dinner party, slams the door on the way out, then comes back yelling: “And one more thing!”

I am told that this year’s winter was milder than before, the cold snaps more subdued. I know this is true because of my experience the last two winters. Still, it seems impossibly long ago that I last saw leaves on the trees that line our street and the nearby park. Maybe it’s the pandemic. Certainly the social media pictures that showed friends in the Middle East cavorting on beaches in February are few and far between now.

This year the excitement and cheer of the first snowfall did not seem to last very long before it morphed into impatience, resignation and apathy as the days stretched into weeks of sub-zero temperatures. It takes forever to get dressed for a walk with a child in that weather, and with all the pandemic burnout it often did not seem worth it. With all the lockdowns and curfews, standing outside on the balcony at night, the winter held a somewhat more threatening desolation. We have all been a bit alone in the pandemic, and coupled with being immigrants far from home, it felt sometimes like we were the only ones in the world during those long winter nights.

One of my favourite things about living in Canada though is the distinct seasons, even if winter tends to overstay its welcome. There are few places I’ve been to that feel as alive as Montreal in the summer. There are few sights as beautiful as the leaves of the Mount Royal turning yellow and red and purple as the autumn sets in. And the vibrancy of spring as it blossoms all around is not just a metaphorical and literal resurrection of life – it feels like a rebirth of the soul itself.

This year, this rebirth is coupled with renewed anxiety over virus variants and potentially new lockdowns, even as vaccinations continue apace. As the last vestiges of winter are shed, one can only hope that as life is renewed, so does our capacity to shed the brokenness of this past pandemic year.

Kareem Shaheen is a veteran Middle East correspondent in Canada and a columnist for The National