Taming winter: New Quebecers try skating

New immigrants to Quebec learn to appreciate Montreal's long winter by strapping on their skates for the first time and trying out the "most wintry sport of all."

'It forms a part of the Canadian lifestyle'

First time skaters Leila Mahmoudi and Saeed Kamazany from Iran test the ice on Montreal's Beaver Lake. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

It's a weeknight in February and the temperature is - 12 C and dropping. 

Adrienne Blattel organises outdoor recreational activities for newcomers to Montreal. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

Most Montrealers, weary of winter, are inside somewhere keeping warm.

But up at Beaver Lake on Mont-Royal, a small group of new Quebecers is getting ready to lace up their skates for the very first time.

Even though she is a little anxious about falling, Cecilia Maitland from Argentina is keen to try.

“I think people look very graceful when they skate, and I think it forms a part of the Canadian lifestyle,” she says. 

“I am trying to become a friend of the winter, so I thought I might try this which is the most wintry sport of all.”

The outing is part of a series of activities called Plein air interculturel, organized through the Milton Park Recreation Association.

Adrienne Blattel created the courses five years ago as a way of bringing outdoor activities to new Montrealers.

The courses are offered year round and, in the winter, include skating, skiing and snowshoeing.

Tonight, Blattel has a group of eight students, including newcomers from Argentina, Iran, Pakistan and China. Most have never skated before.

They gather in the chalet, where Blattel gives them pointers on how to stay upright by bending their knees and how to glide on the ice.

Her volunteer assistant, Neil Yee, gives them tips on lacing their skates tightly.

Before heading out of the chalet, Blattel offers one final piece of advice.

"If you do go for a spill, and you're lying out there on the ice, like this, just don't lie there for too long, because there are people out there skating around with sharp skates."

Then it is the big moment.  One by one, they are led out onto the frozen lake.

First time skaters Saeed Kamazany and Leila Mahmoudi from Iran with volunteer assistant, Neil Yee (left), and instructor Adrienne Blattel (right). (Amanda Klang/CBC)

Cecilia from Argentina takes a few nervous steps.

"It feels weird," she says with a laugh. “I feel like I have no control. This is a new environment for me, completely”.

But 15 minutes later, she is gliding smoothly. She already looks at home on the ice.

Saeed Kamazany and Leila Mahmoudi are a husband and wife from Iran.

Saeed falls almost immediately. But he's laughing, and back up again in seconds.

"It  makes the winter pass better, easier, smoother,” he says.

"In Iran when it gets to - 2 C or - 3 C, everyone tries to stay home. But here people cannot stay home, because if they want to stay home, they have to stay home for five or six months, if I’m not mistaken. So it’s good. I really like it.”

Cecilia Maitland from Argentina tries skating for the first time, on Montreal's Beaver Lake. (Amanda Klang/CBC)

Taming Winter

To hear how the whole evening unfolded, tune in to C'est la vie with Bernard St-Laurent, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m ET (7:30 p.m. AT, 8 p.m. NT), and Feb. 24 at 11:30 a.m. ET (3:30 p.m. NT) on CBC Radio One, 88.5FM in Montreal.


Alison Cook is the producer of C'est la vie on CBC Radio One. She is based in Montreal.