The winter within: Bringing nordicity to life in parks

février 4, 2021

Marie-Hélène Roch

Winter represents a season, a space, and an emotion.” (Hamelin, 1999)

The Quebec geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin (1923-2020) coined the concept of Nordicity by highlighting that winter is a physical and natural season, and a state of mind.


Will this first COVID-19 winter in Canada allow us to finally embrace the concept of Nordicity in our daily lives ?

The art of Nordicity means first and foremost harmonizing our lives with the rhythms of nature. It means slowing down, taking time to rest, to go and play outside, or curl up indoors. It also offers numerous opportunities for us to examine our perceptions, attitudes and behaviours as we face the elements and build seasonal resilience


Snow sculptures designed after the snow storm that hit Montreal in January 2021.


As a winter nation, the season enriches our culture, shapes how we live together, and move about the city. For example, we are seeing a growing number of homemade skating rinks in backyards and laneways. Winter biking has seen a remarkable rise in popularity this winter. Our urban parks are packed with walkers, joggers and people tobogganing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. In Montreal, parks have even created the perfect setting for an open-air museum made of snow castles and sculptures


“You have to first come to a better understanding of winter before you can experience it properly.”

2019 – Daniel Chartier, Founder and Director of the Laboratoire international de recherche sur l’imaginaire du Nord, de l’hiver et de l’Arctique.


Urban parks: where winter experiences come together


Our local urban parks are ideal places to explore our Nordicity and where we begin to truly love the city in winter. City parks where we can discover the potential of winter and build warm memories that will open us up to future outdoor adventures.


Winter is unpredictable: be prepared for anything and everything


Winter is a variable and unpredictable season and requires the right gear. The choice of clothing and equipment is key to managing extreme weather conditions, such as cold, ice or slush. 

In order to properly prepare for those unforeseen situations during your daily travels or outings to the park, choose multi-layered clothing and breathable material known for their ability to retain heat (e.g. merino wool).

Being properly outfitted helps ward off the dangers of ice or black ice. Adjustable ice cleats, for example, are one low-cost solution for ensuring that your walks are always safe and enjoyable. 

We are even seeing programs supplying this type of equipment free of charge to seniors to encourage them to go for walks in winter, and also to help them cope with social isolation.


Spend time outside to support your physical and mental wellbeing


To get all the benefits for our mental and physical health, we need to spend at least 10-20 minutes a day outdoors, especially in winter. Of course, this is even truer now in these times of pandemic and lockdown. 

Whether you choose to engage in outdoor activities like photography or winter birdwatching or prefer active transportation like cross country skiing, biking or snowshoeing, you can enjoy additional hours of light and the invigorating and meditative effect of moving about outside in the cold winter air.


Accept winter and the cold at face value 


“In order to change our attitude, we need to become aware that our perception of our surroundings, and the language we use to describe the various phenomena play a key role.” (Pressman 1985, quoted in Zardini 2005.)

Mental Nordicity is a state of mind. It is the acceptance of winter and the cold as they are. Through acceptance, we can mindfully decide to enjoy winter. And to help you do that, here are a few practical tips: 

    • Maintain a logbook to write about winter in your neighbourhood. This can be done with a handwritten journal, or by sharing notes, photos, videos or testimonials in a blog or on social media.
    • Focus on your perceptions: What is your relationship with winter? How do you perceive the natural winter elements (e.g. snow, cold, slush, etc.) from a sensory point of view? What are some of the keywords that come to your mind in reference to winter activities in your local park?

By adopting these practical strategies and questioning your perceptions of winter and of the cold, you can better understand what brings you pleasure or what concerns you when the cold weather comes. This will help you feel more confident about yourself and about winter. Your journal can also serve as a reminder of the pleasures of winter next time you struggle to step outside.


Look for the beauty in winter


As you bring your children back from school or during a short break from work, take the time to look around and to observe the natural and urban landscapes. Look for white or immaculate banks of snow, snow-covered trees, frozen ponds or rivers, or urban developments that create microclimates (sunshine, wind protection, etc.). 


Montreal Park Jarry swimming pool after a snow storm


This quest for natural and urban beauty is one way to appreciate and contemplate winter every day. 

The ephemeral nature of snow in the city also becomes an opportunity to celebrate and honour it. Take advantage of the next snowfall to enjoy the effects of the slower pace, the calm and the reduced noise. And why not use this opportunity to start the next snow sculpture contest in your local park?


Urban parks: a place made for winter and any season


The more time we spend outdoors in the winter, the more we adapt to the temperatures and the elements, and the more we love this season. Dealing with winter in the city means getting used to the changing seasons that punctuate our lives. 

It is therefore important that our urban spaces be adapted for all seasons, including winter. This is what we call “the seasonal resilience of public spaces”. This phenomenon is taking on ever-increasing importance and is becoming part of the “Winter Cities trend. This movement was born out of a desire to better adapt our urban environment to the reality of winter, to promote innovative practices in urban design and to show the impact resulting from the appropriation of public spaces by local communities, regardless of the season.

Increasingly, tools are being developed for decision-makers, experts and citizens who want to help communities better adapt to the realities of winter. To this end, Montreal has created its Guide Ville d’hiver – Principes et stratégies d’aménagement hivernal du réseau actif d’espaces publics montréalais [winter city guide – principles and strategies for winter development of Montreal’s active network of public spaces].

Getting a better understanding of how our Nordicity is reflected in our daily lives is a continuous process, like the seasons that follow one after the other. But one thing is certain: the pandemic has been giving us a thirst for nature, even after the arrival of winter. Therefore, it is essential that our urban parks and public spaces remain accessible and adapted during the cycle of the seasons.

Thank you to our generous sponsors 

Weston Family Foundation