Mild winter weather in Quebec disappoints tourists, forces cities to adapt

Click to play video: 'No white Christmas: Montrealers adjusting to new holiday winter weather'
No white Christmas: Montrealers adjusting to new holiday winter weather
It wasn't the white Christmas many in Montreal are used to and hoped for. As Elizabeth Zogalis reports, some winter activities had to be cancelled over the holidays, leading many to wonder if Quebec will get its usual snowfall at all this winter. – Dec 29, 2023

An unusually mild start to winter in Quebec has discouraged tourists hoping for a winter wonderland, left litter visible on the streets of Montreal and at times diminished traffic to some of the province’s popular ski slopes.

Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Jean-Philippe Bégin said that last month was southern Quebec’s second-warmest December on record after December 2015, with average temperatures several degrees above normal and relatively meagre snowfall in multiple cities. The mild conditions led the agency to label December 2023 a “false start for winter” in Quebec.

Mild conditions continued into the first week of January in Montreal, where some tourists hoping to enjoy winter weather in picturesque Old Montreal said Wednesday they were disappointed to instead find a damp, grey cityscape.

Yull Navarro, from Guadalajara, Mexico, said he was looking forward to seeing snow during his first visit to the city but could only find a single patch of dirty ice in Old Montreal’s central square, Place Jacques-Cartier.

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“I was promised some snow here in Montreal,” Navarro said. “It looks kind of dirty because everything is brown.”

Click to play video: 'Slow start to North Shore ski season hitting ski hill workers'
Slow start to North Shore ski season hitting ski hill workers

Ottawa-born, longtime California resident Katrina Hercules was also disappointed. “I really miss the snow,” she said, gesturing to the same dust-covered pile of ice. “I live in Southern California so for me to come up and see snow is a big part of why I like to come and visit Canada during the winter.”

Golshan Matinfar, from Vancouver, pointed to the trash strewn alongside some buildings and curbs. “I expected a cleaner city,” she said.

Public cleaning operations slow down in the colder months and crews put away street-sweeping machines, whose water tanks would freeze, City of Montreal spokesperson Sara-Eve Tremblay explained in an email.

Snow usually covers much of the winter litter until spring, but not so much this past month.

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Last week, Montreal had to rent a street sweeper to assist city employees in their manual cleaning efforts downtown, Tremblay said.

The city might have to consider further ways to adapt. “Climate change is forcing us to review the ways we go about the upkeep of streets and sidewalks,” the city spokesperson said.

In Quebec City, local tourism office general manager Robert Mercure said December weather likely depressed visitor traffic to the ski resorts surrounding the provincial capital, which received just 19 per cent of its usual December snowfall, according to estimates.

The city itself was bustling during the holiday period despite a slowdown in hotel reservations as snow gave way to rain, Mercure said. Outside the city, however, he said he’s not expecting tourist attractions to have done brisk business in December.

Click to play video: 'Businesses scrambling to adapt to mild winter'
Businesses scrambling to adapt to mild winter

Mercure said he thinks 2023 will prove to be a record tourism year for the Quebec City area, but he said the lack of snow at the end of December was a let-down. “Winter activities is a key part of our offer and I think that some people have been disappointed.”

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Further south, near the U.S. border, snow and cold temperatures at the beginning of December enabled Quebec ski destination Mont Sutton to keep its slopes open through the month, but the resort still registered a drop in visitors around the holidays, CEO Jean-Michel Ryan said in an interview. He blamed the lack of snow in Montreal, which may have deterred city dwellers from making the roughly 90-kilometre trek to the mountain.

In recent years, Mont Sutton has made multimillion-dollar investments in its snow-making systems to prepare for warmer seasons due to climate change, Ryan said. He credits those measures for the resort’s ability to maintain its slopes at the end of December.

He said he thinks skiers will have to adjust their perception of Quebec’s winter weather, too.

“Skiers also need to adapt to the changes,” he said. “They can take advantage of the fact that even if there’s less snow in the city the slopes in the mountains are still there.”

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