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Canada The founder of Winterlude, Ottawa's celebration of snow, has flown the coop -- to Florida

Canadians have always taken a rather perverse delight in the conditions in which they must live nearly half of every year.

Canada, they like to boast, is where the dogs whine to get in, where lock de-icer is as handy for the nostrils as for the car, where winter foreplay is a remote starter for the snowmobile -- and where, at certain times of the year, the people regularly ask each other the English language's most baffling question:

"Think it's warm enough to snow today?"

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Now comes word that the man who gave the country one of its greatest symbols of the joys of winter cannot bear the season.

Friday marks the opening of the 25th edition of Winterlude, the annual Ottawa festival that features the World's Longest Skating Rink, snow sculptures and cinnamon beavertails, and to mark the event The Ottawa Citizen took it upon itself to track down the originator of this idea that brings 650,000 citizens and visitors out in their long underwear and tuques to whoop it up along the Rideau Canal.

Winterlude was founded on Feb. 4, 1979, "as a means of celebrating Canada's unique northern climate and culture," and a quarter century later it is still the area's major winter attraction.

But the paper should have been just a trifle suspicious when it found the genius who dreamed up this annual event living in -- Florida.

And just in case there was any lingering doubt, Rheal Leroux set the record straight pretty fast:

"To be honest with you," he said from down South, "I was never a great fan of winter. I'm sorry, but to tell you the truth, I'm still not. I never really liked the cold.

"Sorry about that."

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No apologies necessary. We're used to it.

The Vikings apparently bailed, eventually, because of the impossible weather. Jacques Cartier passed his first winter at Stadacona watching the inside walls of his shelter coat over with six inches of solid ice, and by spring, 25 of his 110 men were dead. David Thompson tried going through the Athabasca Pass during the formidable winter of 1810-11, and when several of his men ran out on him (presumably headed south), he accepted it as an understandable symptom of the incredible "mental distress" of winter travel.

"I begin to think," Alexander Mackenzie wrote to a nephew back in Scotland two centuries ago, "this is the height of folly in a man to reside in a country of this kind, deprived of every comfort that can render life agreeable."

Pioneers also often could not bear it any longer. Susanna Moodie bumped into a preacher who told her that the deeper one went back into this inhospitable land, "the farther from God, and the nearer to hell" she would draw.

One friend suggests that winter is the preferred state of mind for Canadians -- "Coldness brings us together to complain." And certainly the complaints have been prevalent these past two weeks throughout the land: It's too cold to be outside. It's too cold to ski. It's too cold for recess. There's too much snow in Newfoundland. There's too little snow in the Prairies. Is every car in Ontario the same colour because of the salt? Why can't anyone invent a windshield wiper that works?

Perhaps there is comfort in knowing that it has been worse, much worse. More snow has fallen in the past, lower temperatures have been reached in the past.

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When the Pennsylvania naturalist Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher decided she and her husband, John, would try to last through a winter in an isolated cabin in the B.C. interior in the early 1940s, she found the sounds of shifting ice and cracking trees as alarming as mortar fire.

"So densely frosted" did the little cabin windows become, she wrote in her memoir of that winter, "that it seemed as if daylight, even if it were there, could never penetrate the cabin."

Now that is cold.

More than 200 years ago, the British writer Frances Brooke dismissed the Canadas by proclaiming that, "Genius will never mount high where the faculties of the mind are benumbed half the year."

Perhaps genius, however, has to do with that old saw about necessity being the mother of invention.

The apologetic Rheal Leroux, for example, suggests from Florida that his very dislike of the season may have helped him come up with the hugely successful Winterlude. And Winterlude is but one of hundreds of winter carnivals being held across the country in the month of February.

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After all, not everyone can be in Florida, where no one ever needs to ask if it is warm enough to snow.

"Maybe," Leroux told the paper, "because I am not a fan of winter, I worked so much to promote winter -- to make it more fun."

What choice, after all, do the rest of us have but to make the best of it?

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