Winter Holiday Activities in Canada, as seen through the eyes of the artist

I hope you had a lovely Christmas, surrounded by family and friends with lots of good cheer and outdoor activities such as the ones I will be talking about below.

I want to introduce you to a very pleasing watercolour on paper, unframed, signed by George Mendez Rae, and called Pondskaters. It’s size is 14.5 inches by 21.75 and it would make a nice statement in your retro or mid-century styled home. Check with me: if you are interested in this lovely seasonal original  Canadian painting.

For a long time, Rae was a commercial artist specializing in comic books and, was the originator of Captain Jack the Canadian hero, which was an extremely popular comic until the demise of its publishing house in the 1950’s, after which Rae no longer did comics. His style is retro, mid-century and this genre is very popular at the moment in decorating.

This painting could easily hold its own in such a decor, and I can just imagine it in the slope roofed, window-walled modern style  homes so popular at that time. Also, the painting is quintessentially Canadian, romanticising as it does the joys of winter sports.

I realize many of my readers/followers are resident in Europe, Asia and the USA, and now and then I like to take the time to fill them in on some aspects of Canadian history and culture and more specifically on aspects particular to Canadians of First Nations descent. Today as part of my holiday greetings to you I will explore the history of “winter sports” or activities and past times in Canada.

I found the complete archives of the Canadian Illustrated Magazine and uploaded many images for you. The Canadian Illustrated was published in Montreal in the last quarter of the 19th century and offers an invaluable window into Canadian life at that point in time….

First, an overview: skating, snowshoeing, tobogganing, sleighriding, curling…..

Next, below, three vignettes captured by one of their artists in and around Halifax, Nova Scotia: trotting races on the ice, which were popular right up into the 1960’s each winter when the Dartmouth Lakes had frozen over, Snowshoeing by the light of the moon, and sleighing by members of the Halifax Tandem Driving Club. Tandem driving used a pair of horses, one following the other – a little more difficult than two horses abreast.

Above, wintertime military exercises taking place on the Halifax side of the shores of the Northwest Arm – present-day site of Quinpool Road as it approaches the Armdale Rotary.

Above is the view from the top of the Toboggan run at Rideau Hall, which is the residence in Ottawa of the Prime Minister of Canada – apparently in the Victorian period there were various recreational amenities in the grounds which were more or less public – skating rink, curling sheet, and toboggan run.

Canadian Winter Sports were and currently are, a mixture of both European and First Nations sports – we will examine some of those now. For more info on Snow Snake competitions see

Snowshoeing was a means of transportation embraced by the new settlers of the country, who found that the indigenous peoples moved in winter using various types of snowshoes. Despite the cold, travel in winter was not impossible and often was easier than in summer, except where canoe routes and sea lanes  were in use. At any rate, snowshoeing was embraced as soon as settlement had reached the point where there was leisure to indulge in sport. Young men in the military, in particular, with their other needs – food, shelter and heat – found for them by their military employers, often indulged in sport earlier than true settlers.

Hockey developed from hurley, shinny (games from the British Isles) and lacrosse (which was popular among the Six Nations Confederacy as it still is today), and as skates became more technologically advanced after 1860 or so, hockey became very popular. So much so that the young ladies, as shown above playing a game in Toronto in 1910, were not unusual.

The ancient Scottish sport of curling took hold wherever scots lived and rivalled hockey in those communities. Here are a group of men, some dressed in formal hat and overcoat, some wearing cap and short jacket playing somewhere in Southern Ontario.

Two young couples – early adopters of the sport of skiing, which again was originally a Northern European means of winter transportation, and that of snowshoeing.

And finally, lacrosse, the Six Nations sport being played on ice, on skates by young men, quite possibly “habitants”.

Finally, I teased you with art in my title and here it comes! This is an entire seperate subject which I may fully explore at some future date and devote a full blog post to it.

Cornelius Kreighoff was  born in Amsterdam in the early 1800’s. He emigrated to the US and soon after joined the military there, became disenchanted, deserted and came to Montreal in Canada. In Canada he became fascinated by the life of both the “habitants” and the Mohawks at Caughnawaga, across the river from Montreal and they appeared frequently in his paintings.

He painted innumerable scenes of winter life in the countryside of Quebec, and the tough little Canadian horse pulling the farmer’s sleigh was his trademark.

A less well known subject but beautifully painted and how nicely it documents the winter clothing of the time. This is a hunter and he is likely hunting for survival, not sport.

Finally, two Nova Scotian Folk Artists are my choice to depict scenes from old fashioned winters: first Maud Lewis who I’m sure seldom went outside in the winter unless absolutely necessary: she had been crippled and deformed as a young girl by juvenile arthritis, and later married an uneducated man who had been born to a woman who was an inmate of the local poorhouse. He acted as nightwatchman at the Poor Farm and peddled fish and Maud’s greeting cards in sevral communities during the day. They lived in primitive circumstances in a building Everett had thrown up when given a small piece of land – with no electricity, no running water and of course only wood heat in a tiny one roomed house in the country. And still Maud was able to depict the joy and bright colours of her life as she perceived it. Here she shows a group of children heading to school as a sleigh passes by. You can almost hear the shouts and see a snowball whizz by!

Joe Norris was no stranger to poverty either and after working on the Halifax waterfront for some years, he returned to his home in nearby Prospect and made a small living as a fisherman until he was felled by a heart condition. A nurse in the hospital suggested he give painting a try and it all took off from there. Sadly neither Joe nor Maud ever made what their paintings were worth, and the sale prices currently realized would have made their lives easier back when they were selling canvasses for $10 or $20 a piece! Still neither Joe nor Maud saw this as a deterrent – both painted as much as they could, and as much as their ailing bodies allowed.


I want to remind you all that many folks have not yet taken advantage of entering for a chance to win the lovely book and cd featuring the Huron Carol – go to and enter today. The drawing will take place at midnight December 31, 2010 and the winner will be announced New Year’s Day. Open to all, no matter where you live, the prize will be mailed to you free of charge.

Good Luck!!!!

And Happy New Year



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s