As I look out my window, it is dark, cold and blustery. I’m so pleased to be inside where every room in the house is nice and warm. I’m glad I don’t have to go anywhere because the roads are covered with ice, and snow banks make visibility at corners difficult.
This isn’t exactly the same view our Victorian ancestors had of winter. Sure, their fireplaces didn’t heat every corner of the room, or even every room. But they were warm enough. Most pleasantly, winter was a time to visit with neighbours and friends, to take part in activities solely because they were fun, to relax and enjoy life a little bit.
Snow or ice on the road was a good thing–it was easier for the sleigh to get around that way. And since they didn’t remove the snow from the roads, they didn’t create snow banks. I suspect it might have been hard on the horses, though, stepping through all that snow all the time. But still, at least the cold air would keep them from overheating as they exercised. Makes me feel sorry for them in the high heat of summer.
The Victorians were a whole lot hardier than we are today, I think. Okay, maybe that should be than I am. They thought nothing of spending an entire winter’s day out-of-doors, and invented or improved upon all kinds of games and sports.
In Canada, our Scottish immigrants brought curling to us, and by the beginning of Victoria’s reign we had at least eight regular curling clubs, plus many more games played less formally. One Scotsman on the scene, Francis Augustus Grant, noted in 1848, “There is also capital curling here but the stones are all made of iron as the frost is so hard that stone would crack and they are a great deal heavier than what we have in Scotland.” Obviously, setting our ironworks to make curling stones is an indication of how important the sport had become.
Other winter activities included ice hockey, tobogganing, skating on our numerous rivers and lakes, and for those “young” men with the means, sleigh racing. I say young in quotation marks, because judging from the pictures here, many of them weren’t what I consider young. Perhaps young at heart (or foolish) would be the better term. Anyway, they used horses running one behind the other and small sleighs for only two passengers. In Montreal, they particularly loved racing up the mountain, weaving back and forth almost like a slalom ski run. Here’s a good picture.
It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. F. A. Grant tells of his experience on a trip from Quebec City to St. Raymond, a distance of 48 miles. He overturned the sleigh and had to “fish horses, carriage and baggage from five feet of snow.” The good news was, he made it to his destination in time for supper.