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Winters past

(Added 13 February 2008)

Sempronius Stretton, Fashions in Lower Canada 1805-06, watercolour and pen and ink drawing (taken from Micheal Bell’s book Painters in a New Land, published by McClelland and Stewart, 1973)

As we wallow in the depths of Quebec winter and sigh with boredom and discouragement each time we reach for our winter uniform – the same old coat and scuffed pair of boots – day in and day out, Leisure Projects casts an eye back on former winter leisure activities and attire worn in this fair but frozen winter wonderland.

The early 19th century artist Sempronius Stretton (seemingly a kindred spirit to 21st century artist Karl Funk) sketched “Fashions in Lower Canada, 1805-06” portraying the fashions of his bygone era, which appear particularly eccentric and creative when compared with the exceedingly boring plethora of gortex and fleece we see on Canadian streets today.

Thirty-five years earlier the 18th century English writer Frances Brooke describes a carefree post-conquest Quebec City winter in her novel The History of Emily Montague, published in 1769. The novel, which proved very popular in England, acted almost as a marketing tool for immigration, suggesting that life in the colonial wilderness of Canada was not all that different than the comforts of life in England. She writes,

I begin to disrelish the winter here; now I am used to the cold, I don’t feel it so much: as there is no business done here in the winter, ‘tis the season of general dissipation; amusement is the study of everybody, and the pains people take to please themselves contribute to the general pleasure: upon the whole, I am not sure it is not a pleasanter winter than that of England.

Both our houses and our carriages are uncommonly warm; the clear serene sky, the dry pure air, the little parties of dancing and cards, the good tables we all keep, the driving about on the ice, the abundance of people we see there, for every body has a cariole, the variety of objects new to an European, keep the spirits in a continual agreeable hurry, that is difficult to describe, but very pleasant to feel.

Following Emily Montague’s lead, Leisure Projects notes the importance of dancing and parties to make winter living bearable and enjoyable.

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