How does that American Christmas song go, "Walking along, singing a song, living in a winter wonderland"? I always wondered what exactly 'wonderland' meant in that context. Snowmen? Christmas trees adorned with lights in a field of snow? Yes, possibly.
But imagine a village along a huge waterway that turns to ice for three months of the year and becomes the widest, whitest road you've ever seen. Now THAT sounds like a 'wonderland'!
Such a place exists and is called, Tête-à-la-Baleine (Whale-Head, in English), a village of 250 people who live in this remote corner of Canada, on the northern end of the Gulf of St Lawrence and 1500 kilometres from Montreal. It has no road access. Everything comes in by ferry, the Nordik Express. Things get more interesting when the Gulf begins to freeze over in January.
This is the time when the village supplies come in for the winter months. They have to arrive before the water turns to ice. When that happens temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees C. The pace of life also changes to cope with this reality. But it's not a pace of life fraught with the drama of being cut off from the rest of the world, but of a small community enjoying their 3-month isolation as a chance to bond with their fellow villagers.
The sense of community in Tête-à-la-Baleine is palpable. It is shared by other villages scattered along six hundred kilometres of coastline of the Gulf of St Lawrence.
When the Gulf turns to ice the first thing that the local council does is to stick pine branches into the ice to mark a trail on the frozen sea. Getting around is much easier in winter, strangely enough, with people on snowmobiles whirring from village to village.
To mark winter the first party of the year is held at the local community hall. It brings together all the young people from the surrounding villages that catch up with old friends, make new ones, fall in love and some even end up getting married.
We journey aboard the Nordik Express on its final delivery run before the onset of winter and meet the villagers as they prepare for their 3 months of blissful isolation. As the ice sets in Tête-à-la-Baleine is transformed into a winter wonderland with the Gulf of St Lawrence becoming the widest and whitest road you've ever seen and the village is warmed by the community spirit of its 250 inhabitants who, just by the way, wouldn't want to live anywhere else. And who can blame them?