The Coldest February Since Eighteen-Something

Yonge Street, downtown Toronto

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They said on the radio today this was the coldest February since eighteen-something. They say something similar about the weather each week, but after a certain point cold is cold is cold.

I was in’ Tronno’ last Friday where the snowbanks fringing Yonge Street were varying grades of brown sugar – demerara, muscovado, turbinado. None of the blue-toned brilliance that (for me) makes suffering the slush worthwhile. Cabin-fever temporarily chastened, I sought refuge inside a coffee-shop.


Yonge Street, downtown Toronto


Yonge Street, downtown Toronto


So determinedly did it snow over the weekend that a lone snowplow was no match. No matter – we have fleets of the things here in Canada. Watch this gang of Toronto snowplows clear the freeway in one sweep ⇒

They worked in synchronized convoy downtown, a thunderous trio of flanked, lantern-jawed behemoths, dispatching snow with brisk efficiency.


Snowplow trio


As the temperature rose above Excruciating for the first time in a while it became clear the family walk I had in mind wasn’t going to happen. Snow-clouds kept the skies dull and woolly, robbing us of that diamante dazzle a clear day ignites. Anyway, blizzards are best enjoyed from the warm side of a windowpane. A snowflake in the eye is more painful than you’d think, and have you ever had the snot inside your nose freeze?


Child in a dentists chair


We contented ourselves with check-ups at the dentist and shovelling snow instead. The engineer in K carves out a little alcove streetside for the recycle bins to sit in on bin-day, AND a path through the drifts to the roadway so we can make it to school with dry socks in the mornings.

Saturday night transported me back to coupledom pre-children, when K and I visited every Indian restaurant within a thirty mile radius of St Albans. Back in the UK the prelude to any decent *ruby was a brittle stack of poppadoms with a triumvirate of toppings, something along the lines of silky-sweet mango chutney, something to set your tongue alight, cooling mint-infused yoghurt to calm it again, and a small salad strong in slivers of onion and freshly chopped coriander. K recreated it all and the kids loved it!
*ruby – Ruby Murray = curry

Sunday morning snuck in with soft snowfall and the promise of more shovelling so we took solace in a sound breakfast. Pancakes, a plate of kiwi and crisp asian pear sprinkled with fresh mint, whipped cream, maple syrup (of course!), and a drizzle of melted milk and white chocolate completed the dream. Well, you need energy to shift all that snow – it’s getting to the point where we don’t know what to do with it all!


Piles of cleared snow in a plaza car park


By Monday the snow had ceased only to be replaced by a fierce wind that blew dancing wraiths of soft powder into the air and along roads, so those inclined to daydream might fancy they were looking upon white-hot flames licking at the asphalt.


Windswept pier and lighthouse, whitby Harbour


Down at the lakeshore the rambunctious waves wore frothy white caps and beneath its skin of icy jewels the body of Lake Ontario heaved lustily in the harbour, a thousand glassy collisions filling the air with a rending and splintering that reminded me of the icebreaker needed to free the Toronto Island ferry last week.




I managed a few pictures before the cold drove me back to the relative refuge of the Jeep, although it too shuddered in the crosswind.




There’s something riotously invigorating about experiencing the power of nature in its rawest, wildest beauty that leaves a lingering, earnest appreciation for life in all its forms. Something about our complex relationship with nature, an especially intriguing topic in Canada, where so much of the country is wilderness. When we get out into nature we’re overwhelmed, partly completely intimidated, partly completely seduced – a thrilling paradox.


Gratitude and joy flood my veins, I feel fortunate to have made my home here.


By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. It does look cold. We still haven’t had a ‘proper’ snow yet. We have had some, but it’s not lasted long & my son hasn’t had a chance to really enjoy it. Love your pictures – there’s something majestic about nature in its extremes.

  2. What stunning photos. It certainly does look rather chilly with you! The weather reporters do always seem to come up with something on a weekly basis though don’t they.

  3. Your photos are stunning. I don’t feel like I can complain about a few flurries of sleet in comparison to the huge amounts of snow you have at the moment. Nature is magnificent and fascinating at times like this (although best watched from inside with a hot drink and a roaring fire) x

  4. oh my goodness, I dont think I have ever seen quite so much snow in all my life! wow.. the images of the water with the ice on is beautiful yet still terrifying! .. sending warm wishes and cyber hot chocolate

  5. We don’t have cold like that ever here and I do love a proper winter – we had a winter in Calgary once and boy that was cold but also great fun. Love the picures

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