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First Winters

‘A real-life snow globe:’
One family’s first night in the snowy streets of Toronto

Ontario winters are magical, filled with stunning, snow-covered scenery and heartwarming experiences. For our First Winters series, we asked three newcomers who emigrated from warm-weather countries to share the stories of their first winters in Ontario.

Read more in this series or discover the world of Ontario.

In the fall of 2009, Nourhan Hesham Martin, her mother Heba and brother Mohamed moved from Egypt to Mississauga, Ont. Now, the Toronto-based writer and content strategist reflects on her family’s first exhilarating experience with snow.

We moved to Canada in the fall, my mother, my younger brother and I, and already we were anticipating the coming winter.

We had heard so much about Canadian winters, but coming from Egypt, we could never really imagine what it would be like. In preparation, we went and bought what my mom thought were winter coats but were actually ski jackets. I had this bright, baby blue ski jacket that I would wear as a winter coat. My mom also bought snow pants, thinking these were what you regularly wore.

One night, it started snowing, these huge flaky sprinkles falling from the sky. My brain couldn’t comprehend it. I was thirteen and figured I was pretty knowledgeable about the weather and nature and the elements, but this wasn’t something I could wrap my head around. It felt like I wasn’t on earth.

We had to go grocery shopping, but we didn’t have a car yet, so the three of us took our little cart and walked to the grocery store. It was only two minutes away, but our walk felt so long because we were in this completely new, uncharted territory. The snow was a light dust that coated the ground, the grass, the trees, everything. We took our time walking and observed our surroundings, like the way the snow interacted with our boots and the marks it made on the ground. We’d shuffle our feet to see where it went.

It felt like we were in a real-life snow globe. Everything had this golden sheen to it from the streetlamps. I tried to pack the snow in my hand to make a snowball because that was what I had seen on TV. But because it wasn’t packing snow, it wouldn’t stay together. It made me understand that this thing could be like sand, but cold. Sand was something I was used to.

The next morning, the snow had fallen so thickly that it covered the ground. The city had cleared the sidewalks so you could walk outside, but everyone looked so tiny in comparison to this big snowy world around us. And, of course, we had our bright ski jackets on.

My mom, my brother and I went on a walk on a trail behind our house and there were piles of snow that had been shovelled from the path. That’s when we first got to play in it. My brother jumped into one of the snowbanks and there was this excitement, this feeling like, I can’t believe this thing I saw on TV is here and real. There was no amount of TV or movies or personal anecdotes that could have prepared us for it. We felt like tiny people on a big cake with buttercream icing.

There were many failed yet endearing attempts at snowball fights, but we were still learning the difference between packing snow and fresh snow. It was still fun to throw a fistful of snow that ends up getting sprinkled everywhere though. And nothing is as magical as your first snow angel when you get that surreal feeling that maybe you’re not on earth – maybe you’re somewhere a little more magical than the place we call home.

We discovered that Toronto can be an enchanting place to explore in the wintertime. One of our favourite activities during our first couple of winters was going to Nathan Phillips Square to see the dazzling colours at the Cavalcade of Lights, while families skated on the ice rink nearby. During the holiday season, we liked strolling by the Toronto Eaton Centre to see the Bay’s beautifully decorated window displays. Even once the holidays are over, there is something special about the city streets when they’re covered in fresh snow.

We would send photos of the piles of snow to our family back in Egypt and they couldn’t believe it either. For many winters afterwards, when the snow would get higher and thicker, we’d send more and more photos and it never got old. It’s still such a shock for me to wake up in this snow globe, to live on this cake for four months of the year.

Meet the illustrator

Sahar Abdallah is a children’s books illustrator originally from Egypt, living and working in Canada. She held several solo exhibitions in Cairo and in Toronto and participated in collective exhibitions in Egypt, Canada, UAE and Lebanon. She also attended many workshops related to children’s books in Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Algeria and India. She was awarded the state incentive prize for her illustration in 2012, Egypt and Etisalat prize "UAEBBY": the Best Illustration category 2018 for Think of Others by Mahmoud Darwish and the book of the year category for Layali Shahrzizi 2020, UAE.

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio on behalf of Destination Ontario. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

CREDITS: Concept and editing by JESSICA ROBINSON; editing by SHELLEY WHITE; Art direction, design and development by JEANINE BRITO; development and design by AASHISH ARORA

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