Having only ever experienced the mild inconvenience of April showers in the UK, I was decidedly unprepared for the series of “false springs” and extreme weather (freezing rain, still?) that were waiting to greet us this month. We could hardly believe the forecast when the temperature finally reached 13 degrees around mid-April, and I waited for at least a week of positive temperatures to pass before committing to the removal of my car’s winter tyres. Here’s what to do when you’re not sure if it’s going to be sunny or slippery tomorrow:
- Experience a cultural sugar crash
Springtime is sugar shack season in Québec, as freezing temperatures overnight and temperatures just above 0 degrees in the morning are ideal circumstances for maple production. Having always associated the whole of Canada with its iconic maple leaf, I didn’t initially realise that 91% of maple syrup is produced in Quebec produces 91% of the country’s maple syrup, and most of this is produced in Beauce. One of our Québecois friends was kind enough to invite us to her family-run sugar shack in Saint-Théophile where she showed us the maple water running out of the trees and into a Mission Impossible-style maze of blue tubing. Her father explained the process to us (in possibly the most Beauce of all Beauce accents I came across during the whole year) and we were given maple sweets and mugs of syrup as well as samples of tire d’érable, where hot syrup is poured onto the snow and then eaten in what I can only describe as the most wonderfully Canadian thing I’ve ever seen.
2. Once recovered, accept another invite to a family meal at a sugar shack
Think of this as “rinse, repeat”, only you’re rinsing in maple syrup and repeating putting your body through the strange phenomenon of a sugar hangover. After a long debate in the staff room, my teachers decided which of them would get to host me at their family sugar shack, so I was lucky enough to go twice. This one was more old-fashioned as they collected the maple water from the trees in buckets rather than tubes, and of course I was asked to drink from said bucket because “c’est la tradition!”. We then had a fabulous meal of all kinds of meat, pancakes and bread covered in as much maple syrup, sugar and butter as my arteries could handle.
3. Dance all night (and all day) at Down by the Riverside
My 12-week session of beginner lindy-hop lessons seemed to end in perfect timing for the Beauce’s annual swing dancing festival, which was great as it meant I felt ready and able to take part in what ended up being one of the most memorable and fun weekends for me. We danced all night on Friday and Saturday with live music from Les Royal Pickles, and Saturday was spent dancing our way in and out of professional workshops with teachers from all over Quebec. On Sunday the guest band traditionally leads a parade along the promenade in Saint-Georges, but this year it was too cold, so the band put on a very intimate performance in a room above a restaurant and led a very interesting discussion about musicality. They also debuted their album, Jouer dans l’trafic, which is on Spotify so you have no excuse not to check it out really. We felt lucky to be in the audience and I’m so glad to have taken part in the whole thing, as it’s certainly not something I imagined myself doing this time a year ago.
4. Support your school and everyone in it
When I discovered that one of my students was tragically afflicted by cancer, I was more than happy to come in to work at 6:30am on his birthday to help welcome parents and serve breakfast at a special event the school had organised to raise money for his family. The event ended up raising enough money for the school to buy a specially adapted bike for Hugo, and it was an honour for me to have been a part of such a generous community.
5. Showcase your newly acquired talents
Speaking of fundraising, some of the other Quebec assistants decided to organise a talent show to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research. The event took place in Ninkasi, Quebec City’s infamous karaoke bar, and I was persuaded to have a swing dance on stage as part of the line-up. We all had a sing-song afterwards and again, it felt great to be a part of something so good-natured.
6. Support those who support you
Some of the other Saint-Georges assistants were competing in Boston Pizza’s bar staff competition wherein they had to sell as many drinks coupons as possible, so we all pitched in to help them and rallied our local friends for a night of “helping”, which seemed to descend into more karaoke. I remember being most touched by a gift from my friend Audrey – the same friend who invited us to her sugar shack – who saw me admiring her “feministe tant qu’il le faudra!” badge that evening and decided to offer it to me there and then. It is now adorning the red Québec hoodie of my activist racoon friend, Ralph. The next morning, my friend and I went along to a children’s singing competition at the high school because my headteacher’s daughter was competing, and as she’d had the courage to serenade us at a dinner party we couldn’t not go and support her! She had the voice of an eight-year-old angel and was undoubtedly much more pleasant to listen to than our karaoke from the night before, and she rightly won the coup de coeur prize after capturing the hearts of the judges.
7. See familiar areas from new angles
We’d paid many a visit by this point to our friend who was living in the town of Lévis, situated just across the river from Quebec City, but we hadn’t really seen much more of the town than his house and the commercial sprawling area as you enter from the highway. We therefore decided to spend what we decided to be the first official day of spring at a beautiful marina as we reflected on the long winter which we had definitely made the most of, and with which we were more than ready to part ways.
8. Marvel at Beauce sunsets
It got to the point where, when we would drive together at sunset, I didn’t even need to ask my best friend to stop his car anymore; he would see me gazing out of the window and my hand twitching towards my camera, and he would find somewhere to pull up along the side of the road. A Beauce sunset was never one to disappoint.
9. Organise a stylish send-off for a departing assistant
As Maria, our favourite Mexican muchacha, was flying home at the beginning of May, it was only right that we came together to send her off with a wonderful evening of Mexican music, feasting and enjoying her hilarious company. We’d all gotten so used to having her around that her sudden departure sadly felt like the beginning of a lot of endings to come…