While the country endures a long and isolating winter, with outdoor activities limited and non-essential departures from home discouraged, one way people have used to break the gloomy monotony is by making snowmen — lots of snowmen.
In Ottawa, and elsewhere, making snowmen is one of the few activities Canadians can safely enjoy outdoors.
And the gender or even the species doesn’t seem to matter. Snowmen, snowwomen, snowbears and various other snow creatures started appearing as conditions for construction became ideal in early January. With the warmer temperatures and stickier snow of March, Ottawa may be in for another snowman-building blitz.
The rising popularity of these snowy figures has led some institutions to use them to build community and to encourage low-risk outdoor activity. In Montreal, the city has a snowman-building contest that will end with the announcement of a city-wide winner on March 8. Ottawa Public Health has tweeted out its endorsement of a snowman wearing a mask.
For the Kanata Montessori School their snowman-building contest in January was aimed at helping students manage time away from school.
“It’s difficult to do school by yourself,” said Kyle Jarvis, a math teacher at the KMS high school campus. “It’s an environment people aren’t used to, and it’s quite different from what we’ve been doing at Kanata Montessori. So it can leave kids feeling very isolated when they’re stuck at home to do their work.
“As an educator, I think it’s one of the most important things you can do, to make a space that people feel comfortable and included in. While it’s difficult to do when we’re online, activities like these keep the school community on everyone’s mind and let them know they’re not isolated. And who doesn’t like snowmen?”
KMS urged students to get outside and build a “classmate” with whom they could socialize. The school also planned to photograph all the snowmen for their classmates to see should they find themselves in another student’s neighbourhood.
“It’s not much, but it is something that we can do together as a school,” said Keelyn Ingram, a KMS teaching assistant. “And it’s important for students to be given outlets that let them be creative and relax outside of their screens. Right now, it’s not only their entertainment source but also how they’re doing most of their work.”
Parents who are a part of the KMS community were very interested in the contest. Carolyn Grainger said it would allow her children to have opportunities for socialization with their schoolmates.
“These events are so important to the kids — it’s important to give them even the smallest chance to be social,” she said. “I actually attended a birthday over Zoom, and one of the mothers mentioned to me that it was one of the only opportunities for her girl to see other people, so we need to find small ways to keep everyone connected.”
While school situations remain challenging to manage, members of the KMS community have decided to take the snowman-building project as a silver lining in a difficult time.
“Honestly, I can’t say we would have done this if we had a normal year,” said Ingram. “I mean, people weren’t making snowmen like this last year, and it feels fun and involved to get students outside to add to this collection of snowmen we see all across the city.”
The KMS initiative provided students with some lighthearted fun to pass the time, but Ingram suggested the snowman phenomenon has symbolized something bigger during a challenging public health crisis.
“I think it just allows people to connect with the students on different levels — you know, as a parent you help them build, as a school you can help them share it and as a neighbourhood and community you help them enjoy the small things that are still cheerful.”