Growing up in a country that experiences four seasons, in order to enjoy our cold and snowy winters, it was necessary to learn and participate in winter sports like skating, hockey, downhill skiing, and so forth. When I was a child, it was the exception, more than the norm, for parents to participate with their children in these outdoor winter pursuits.

My sister and I partook in our winter activities with our friends. Early Saturday mornings, my mother drove my sister and I to a high school, where we hopped on a school bus and travelled the 90 plus minute drive to Kirby Ski Hill. The bus driver made many stops along the way, picking up kids, all with their skis, boots, poles, and a packed lunch in tow. When we finally arrived, we’d spend the entire day skiing on the hills with our friends from the bus. My most vivid memories are having just enough pocket money to be able to buy a hot chocolate, and I was extra happy on the days I had enough for fries. I often slept the entire bus ride home. On Sundays, my sister and I often walked with our friends to the nearest arena and spent the afternoon skating on the indoor ice rink. For those excursions, my most vivid memory is buying sponge toffee, from all loose pocket change. On days after a fresh snow, my sister and I walked with our neighbours to the closest hill, where we spent hours sledding. I still recall carrying our enormous sleds and toboggans, under our arms, the many blocks to and from the hill.

When we had daughters of our own, my husband and I enrolled them in skiing and skating lessons, just as soon their age permitted. Several consecutive years, we purchased a seasonal family ski membership to Kirby, which allowed our family to ski anytime during the winter season. On weekends, we drove to Kirby in time for the girls’ early morning ski lessons, and then met up with them for lunch. I remember our daughters also requesting to buy fries from the clubhouse canteen, as a special treat to accompany our enormous, packed lunch, consisting of sandwiches, pickles, cheese, raw veggies, and treats. Depending on the weather, some days we skied well into the afternoon, and other days we were all ready to return home, shortly after lunch. It was wonderful to observe each week, as our daughters progressed in their ski abilities.

Many holidays were spent out of province at family ski resorts in Vermont and throughout Quebec. I remember we were all in awe of the view from the top of Le Massif and looked forward to tasting the most delicious French food, after a day on that mountain. Our oldest daughter tried skiing for the first time when she was four or five years old, with our good friends and their children, on a holiday in Jay Peak, Vermont. We also travelled to Smugglers’ Notch for a week getaway. Several of our March breaks and Christmas holidays were spent in Tremblant, Quebec. A couple of times we travelled with other families, where we all rented separate condos. During the days, we broke off into groups to ski based on our abilities and whoever felt like skiing at that time. If you ended up in my husband’s group, you were guaranteed to ski at least one double black diamond run, whether you wanted to or not. After a day of skiing, the girls looked forward to the maple sugar lollipops set in fresh snow, that we purchased from the quaint ski village. In the evenings, we took turns preparing dinners for our entire group, and often played games. We ate homemade turkey, ham, meat pies, and other lavish holiday dishes, all while sharing many laughs and lots of teasing. My funniest recollection was when the son of our neighbours confessed that television channels that you normally pay for, were still turned on from whoever had rented the condo before them. His parents didn’t fully understand what he was referring to until half way through the holiday when his father was flicking around channels and was aghast when he accidently discovered the adult channel himself. The son advanced a little more than just in his skiing, during that holiday.

Our family spent many Sunday afternoons at the various arenas that offered a designated family skate. These active excursions were often followed with a trip to Tim Hortons, where we all felt that we had earned our coffee, hot chocolate, and multiple donuts. New Year’s Eves were frequently celebrated with another family of four, where we skated at an arena, prior to returning to our house for drinks, snacks, toasting the new year, and most importantly, warming up in our hot tub. We often got together on Saturday afternoons with other families for outdoor pond skating or sledding parties, which were followed by group dinners at one of our homes. The hosts generally prepared an oversized pot of homemade chili, along with other scrumptious treats and occasionally we ordered in pizza. I can remember one night in particular that ended a little sooner than we anticipated. After an active afternoon outdoors, the kids were all playing in our basement, and the only boy from the group,  jumped a little too high, hitting the ceiling and splitting his forehead wide open. Unfortunately, that gathering ended with a hospital visit and lots of teasing that he was showing off a little too much to the girls.

The idea of families coming together on a designated day originated in Alberta, Canada in 1990, and wasn’t passed in Ontario until 2008. The government appointed the third Monday in February as a statutory holiday for the purpose of families gathering and connecting with one another. The holiday falls in the middle of Canada’s cold and often snowy winter season, so families predominantly partake in traditional outdoor activities such as skiing and skating. By the time this statutory holiday was adopted, many families of my generation were already spending quality time together. The culture had shifted dramatically from my childhood years, when kids ventured out on their own and participated in their desired pursuits with no adult involvement or supervision. It may be questionable whether a Family Day holiday was required by the time it was finally passed, but any designated time off from work is always welcomed.

If the silent generation and older baby boomers, like my parents, were condemned for having too little involvement with their children, early baby boomers and the generation X, like myself, have been criticized for over involvement with our children. I really don’t know what is best for children. I do know that I have no memories of time spent outdoors enjoying fun winter activities with my parents. I also know that some of my best memories, are the times that my husband, daughters and I enjoyed a variety of outdoor interests together, and with other families, all long before Family Day even came into effect. What I know for sure, is that any quality time spent with family, enjoying shared interests, and creating memorable adventures, are happy family days!

Submitted: February 20, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Denise Svajlenko. All rights reserved.

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