2020年1月18日 星期六

Canada Letter: The city that aims to love winter

Edmonton has an ambitious program to plan the city and its programs with winter in mind.

Welcoming Winter’s Cold Embrace

As I mentioned in last week’s Canada letter, the terrible aftermath of the missile strike on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 took me to Edmonton as it was reeling from the loss of 27 residents.

Despite their shock and grief, those who knew the victims and the members of the city’s Iranian community received me with an exceptional graciousness and generosity.

A memorial service in Edmonton for victims of the airline disaster in Iran.Todd Korol/Canadian Press, via Associated Press

After I finished my article (for those of you reading it now: it was published before Iran admitted that its missiles brought down the airliner), I went for an evening run in the expansive river valley that is Edmonton’s defining geographic feature.

It was the start of a cold spell that this week caused a rail to crack on Edmonton’s transit system, brought a general chill to the prairies and delivered significant, and unaccustomed, snowfall to southern British Columbia. Late Friday night, Eastern Newfoundland remained in an official state of emergency because of an extraordinary winter storm.

There was already a fair amount of snow in Edmonton. So heading out of the hotel, I was a bit concerned about whether the trails down in the valley would be passable. But that worry lifted when I came to the dramatic stairway next to the relatively new funicular that runs down to the valley. All of its 156 steps had been thoroughly cleared of snow and ice. Ottawa, where I live, doesn’t even try to clear many outdoor stairways with as few as a half dozen steps and simply chains them off for the winter.


Down in the river valley, every path — and there are many — had been plowed. Again, that’s novel to someone from Ottawa.

None of what I found was random. For the past eight years or so, Edmonton has been rolling out an official strategy to encourage its residents to embrace winter rather than hibernate.

This week, I spoke with Isla Tanaka who is Edmonton’s “winter city planner,” a post she believes no one else holds in the country.

Like several other Canadian communities, she told me, Edmonton was part of a winter cities movement during the 1980s that fizzled out with few achievements.


In 2012, Ben Henderson, a city councilor who came from Edmonton’s vibrant theater community, began pushing for a renewed effort and headed off on a winter tour of Scandinavian cities to see how they approach the season.

Saskatoon, a city where many residents embrace and celebrate winter.Ian Austen/The New York Times

A key takeaway, Ms. Tanaka said, was “that you have to remind people every year that winter can be fun.”


A citizens’ group tasked with developing the city’s official winter strategy came up with 64 programs to roll out over a decade.

They span a wide range. Some of them involve thinking about using color to make public spaces more appealing during the darkest period of winter. Ms. Tanaka and her colleagues work with restaurants on designing outdoor patios that can be open year-round (at least two were serving outside during this week’s deep freeze). New facilities with washrooms down in the river valley that don’t have to be shuttered in winter are opening. And the city now considers things like shelter from the winter winds when placing skating rinks and toboggan hills.

“If we don’t design these spaces to be comfortable in the winter, people won’t go outside,” Ms. Tanaka said. That’s particularly an issue in the city’s downtown, where the outdoors competes with a heated, indoor “pedway” network linking most buildings.

Ms. Tanaka said that Edmonton found that consistency was the key to encouraging winter cycling. If cycling routes and paths aren’t cleared promptly and regularly after every snowfall, she said, riders quickly put their bikes away for the winter.

For Ms. Tanaka, the biggest surprise has been the public’s embrace of winter. She and others initially thought that winter would be a hard sell.

“But that came really, really fast,” she said. “Maybe people were ready to be outside.”

While other cities, of course, have many programs to encourage citizens to get outdoors in the winter, Ms. Tanaka said that she is not aware of any with as comprehensive a plan as Edmonton’s. And increasingly, she’s hearing from other cities looking for winter advice.

Winnipeg, Ottawa and neighboring Gatineau, Saskatoon and, above all, Quebec City all hold winter carnivals with a variety of events. And they all have, as do other cities, season-long outdoor winter activities, even if they don’t follow Edmonton’s comprehensive approach.

The Times’s Travel section this week features a tour of some of Quebec’s skating trails by Elaine Glusac.

The Rideau Canal skateway near Parliament Hill in Ottawa last winter.Ian Austen/The New York Times

Here in Ottawa, where plans often get fragmented between two municipalities in two provinces and the federal government’s National Capital Commission, volunteers have driven some of the recent efforts to get more people out in winter.

In particular, Dave Adams, a cross country skier, began grooming a trail for his sport along the Ottawa River in a more or less solo effort. Now in its fourth year, the trail has become almost as much of an institution as skating on the Rideau Canal. Two more volunteer-based trails will appear elsewhere in the city this year.

Looming over all of this, of course, is climate change and erratic weather. Last winter, it was often too cold for comfortable skating on the canal in Ottawa. This year, a series of thaws means that the ice still isn’t thick enough for its opening.

But for now, at least, much of Canada is a wintry place. Edmonton’s recognition of that reality is one of its strengths.

Trans Canada

Prince Harry and Meghan, his wife, who now plan to spend part of their time in Canada.Matt Dunham/Associated Press

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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