By Paul Gessell
First, let me state my biases: I loathe snow and winter. I loved tunnelling through snowdrifts as a child and building snow forts but I stopped loving snow and winter when I became responsible for shovelling the driveway and for starting temperamental vehicles in minus-40 weather.
So, I had few positive expectations upon approaching the new exhibition, simply titled Snow, at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. We have to deal with snow these days every minute we are outside. Do we really need snow inside, too?
Well, it turns out, there are some gems in the exhibition, which was partially financed by Bombardier, the snowmobile people. Among those gems is the forerunner of the snowmobile, which is actually a covered, motorized sled. The 1958 version in the exhibition looks like a streamlined army tank with skis in front. Larger versions of such vehicles were used as winter school buses when I was a kid in rural Saskatchewan and no one bothered to clear snow from the country roads. We called these vehicles Bomb-a-deers, the French pronunciation of Bombardier being too difficult for prairie anglos.
Right beside the Bomb-a-deer is a homemade “caboose,” although that name is not used in the exhibition to describe this homemade covered sled with a wood stove inside. (Think of the world’s tiniest trailer on skis). This wooden “caboose” was made around 1950 by a Saskatchewan farmer. My family had one of those contraptions, which could be propelled either by horses or a farm tractor. When municipalities started regularly clearing snow from country roads, the “cabooses” were parked at the end of laneways for children to get out of the wind and wait for school buses. You can still see some of these “bus shelters” in various parts of rural Canada today.
Note that right in front of the “caboose,” there are some objects that look like overly large shoes nailed to round, wooden pads. They are snowshoes for horses.
The exhibition includes all kinds of winter apparel, including a magnificently embroidered blanket for dogs in the Northwest Territories and many objects for humans objects as well, including walrus ivory goggles used by Inuit in the Arctic to prevent snow blindness.
There are various photographs, paintings, and prints of snowy scenes. My favourite is a lithograph showing a giant ice palace in Montreal in 1887. It’s a pity we don’t see such architectural gems during the annual Winterlude in Ottawa. They might just help convince folks like me to stick around longer in the winter and not flee to Mexico.
Snow, the exhibition, continues at the Canadian Museum of Civilization until Sept. 28, 2014.