Quebeckers head to the polls today in a provincial election that might produce the first minority government in more than a century. Most of the snow has melted, but for most of February and March, the election provided for more than just news-hour entertainment: it made for great impromptu tobogganing for people who don’t have enough room in their apartments for real sleds. Just like politicians, you see, election signs are very slippery.
My first experience with election sign tobogganing came just over a year ago, on a clear, cold January night. Canadians have gotten used to constant election fever since the Liberals lost their majority in 2004, but last winter was exceptional: in Montreal’s Outremont riding, there were three elections in as many months. First was a municipal election in November, then a provincial by-election in December. By the time we trudged to the polls to vote in January’s federal election, leftover election signs from all three races were in abundance. It only seemed natural to put some of them to good use on the bunny hill at the corner of Park and Mount Royal.
So, armed with scissors, we snipped down a few green Omar Aktoufs, found some NDP-orange Léo-Paul Lauzons, recovered a diamond-shaped Farouk Karim and scored what we considered to be the prize of the night, a giant rectangular Raya Mileva. Bracing against the wind, our skin frosty despite layers of wool sweaters, scarves and mittens, we walked to the edge of Mount Royal and clamoured up the small tobogganing hill.
From the street, the hill really didn’t look very high, just a gentle slope leading up to the path that elegantly winds its way to the top of the mountain. But once we had climbed up to the top, in the park’s grey half-light, I realized it was much steeper than it had appeared. I peered down to the fence at the bottom of the hill. Bales of hay had been placed in front of it to prevent little kids from sliding right under the wheels of some speeding Park Avenue delivery truck. The faint sound of ambulance sirens drifted towards me; a horrible scene of broken limbs and organs impaled by election signs played before my eyes.
Too late. I couldn’t chicken out now, if only to save face and prevent my friends from thinking I was even more of a wimp than I am. So I joined my crazy friend Chu Lynne and sat down on top of Omar Aktouf. We were at the top of a groove etched into the snow by previous sledders; it snaked down the slope like a miniature bobsled track. Chu Lynne squealed with excitement. “I’m ready,” I lied. With that, our friends pushed as down the hill as hard as they could.
It was very fast. I remember feeling briefly exhilerated, like my heart and lungs had been left behind, the same kind of feeling you get when you careen down a roller coaster or jump off a building. Then we hit a bump. It had been cold and dry that week and the snow had hardened, which was very conducive to speed, but not so much for soft landings. We flew in different directions and landed, bent and crumpled like old socks, about fifteen feet apart.
We stood up. My muscles ached. “Ohhhhh!” Chu Lynne exclaimed, jumping up and down. “Let’s do that again.”
As it turned out, Raya Mileva, despite her impressive width, was not the slipperiest of our politician-slides. That honour went to Farouk Karim, whose unorthodox shape (though not, sorry to say, unorthodox platform) propelled us fastest and most unpredictably down the hill. We squealed with joy until we hit a bump and went flying.
Using election signs as toboggans must come naturally to Montrealers. An acquaintance who spent last weekend in Quebec City was rewarded with a St. Patrick’s Day blizzard that emptied the old town of its usual hordes of tourists. Never one to pass up an opportunity to have fun, he and his friend tore down an election sign and slid down the middle of a steep street. It isn’t just rebellious twentysomethings who do this. I was reading La Presse earlier this month when I came across a photo of an adorable little girl sliding down the Mount Royal bunny hill on an election sign. “Among the most-spotted candidates was the Parti Québécois’ Salim Laaroussi,” the paper reported.
It so happens that it was that very same Salim Laaroussi who injured another friend of mine earlier this month. As Montreal suffered through the largest snowstorm of the winter, she accompanied a group of people who trekked down to Mount Royal for some good old-fashioned election sign sledding. Through some combination of events that still remains unclear, the edge of a Laaroussi sign came flying towards Julia, a particularly vivacious person who is unable to look stern or upset. It struck her in the face; there was apparently a lot of blood in the snow. She now has a very prominent gash on her chin. It doesn’t stop her from smiling—and I don’t think it will stop her from going tobogganing with election signs.
Tags: Games, Montreal, Politics, Snow, Winter