Category Archives: Sorel

Wilkie’s Toy Emporium

It’s becoming a tradition to take the kids to Wilkie’s to choose a toy when they come to Sorel for a visit. I’m not sure who has more fun, them poring over all the available choices, or us watching them do so.

It’s usually about a 20 minute free for all racing up and down the aisles on the lower level while choosing and discarding a dozen different toys. This year Nellie has all her treasures bundled in her arms and lets them scatter on the floor when she gets to the top of the stairs. There is more interesting fare – a brightly coloured rake, watering can and shovel for sand adventures. Miraculously, they make it all the way to the cash register and out the door.

Noah picks a cowboy hat early on and sticks with it though there are moments of indecision. Noah is a hat boy. He’s amassing quite a collection.

Long live Wilkie’s, a child’s delight. It reminds me of Lund’s hobby and toy store in North York when I was growing up. It was always exciting to choose a surprise


Playground Days Are Here Again

Two playground visits this week. No snow and temps creeping up to a balmy 7° C. Nellie-Rose and Noah-David are in perpetual motion – slides to swings to bridge to climbing arcs. Their voices fill the sky as they call out to each other. Each breath of laughter is a deep exhalation, moments of momentous joy.

They race, encourage, and hug each other eyes wide open to adventurous new feats for their respective inventories of playground conquests. “Help me, help me,” rings through the air – a nudge up a last step here, a meter lift to the monkey bars there. Their independence is striking. Papa’s great contributions are helping when things are out of reach, pushing the swings and watching raptly as the equipment is put through its paces by two all star players.

I can’t get enough of their rosy red cheeks, their speedy fast running, or the calls for more, more, more. I relish with great anticipation the thought of Lila-Jeanne joining us for the playground capades.

Noah is impatient to get back to Sorel this summer. He talks about what we’ll do in Québec and often speaks about the Marathon of Playgrounds that we’re starting to plan. He thinks we should get one happening here in Halifax too.

We take a nice walk along a trail that overlooks the harbour in the Mount Hope area of Dartmouth. The sun is a magnet pulling people out of their homes for a more temperate engagement with the elements. There’s a steep hill with brown, windswept grass uncut and unkempt from last fall. The two mischief makers scamper half-way up and roll, tumble, slide down, down, down. This is a dust off and repeat manoeuvre until I strong voice them to the bottom for the trek back to the playground.

There’s no end to the exploring. Vessels are at our disposal in several locations throughout the city. This new one is tucked away in a small subdivision a five minute drive from our house. On this our second visit, we are the lone crew members. Good thing too as Nellie had to get a rapido outdoor diaper change.

I have a mutiny on my hands when I tell the two junior deckhands that we have to set sail for home. There’s a bit of chasing around and shiver me timbers talk. I’m tough with them though. It’s in the car, or walk the plank. They choose the lesser of two evils and we speed home for a reunion with maman and Lila.

My step is feeling a bit lighter. What’s the reason? Our kids and playground season – it’s here again.

Shinny at the Open Skate

Noah Redblader made a triumphant return to Rink 1 at Cole Harbour Place today. A chair was used only once and not as a skating support. It was just for fun to speed and twirl him around the ice three times.

We met up with another young lad who we have seen during several previous visits. He always has a granddad, a stick and a puck with him. Today for the first time we brought sticks and a puck too. Brennan and Noah hit it off as soon as they started chasing around after the black magic. They gave each other the big goodbyes when they got off the ice.

They’re getting all their hockey etiquette ironed out right down to the hugs after scoring a goal. They’ll enjoy each other’s company from now on. Brennan was accompanied by two granddads today and little brother. One of the granddads coached Sid the Kid in Bantam AAAs. Maybe we’ll hear a few good hockey stories about Crosby’s early years.

Letting go of the idea of a chair as a support required some gentle pushing. He still wanted to hang onto it today. I told him that after his great skating and hockey in Sorel, he didn’t need any support. We went around the ice together a couple of times and he put in a strong showing. From there we started to shinny down in the end zones. All of a sudden before my eyes he was receding – drifting into the near distance. He had that hip swinging, backward skating thing on the go. He didn’t go to far but it was an excellent beginning for him, one that I didn’t anticipate would happen so quickly.

We’ll head back for more on Thursday.

Noah wants to see a real game again soon too. There’s a AAA Midget series coming to town. We’ll try and get out to that.

Tonight for the first time ever, Noah laid out a hockey stick, a puck and a pair of Lego ‘skates’ in Nellie’s bedroom cupboard just like he does for himself in his own cupboard. Nellie is moving on up into the big leagues. It’s so much fun to be a part of it all…

Skating in the Imaginarium

Noah’s pining for a skate. Since stepping off the ice at Parc Monseigneur-Nadeau’s outdoor rink, he’s been waiting to lace up again. Our regular morning outings at Cole Harbour Place aren’t happening for us this week.

His desire is palpable, bubbling, ready to burst. Noah usually pipes up once a day, “Papa, when are we going skating?” I don’t think we can wait until our next regular Cole Harbour date. I need to check other rink schedules for public skates.

In the absence of getting to the rink, Noah turns the family room and the upstairs hallway into his own private ice surfaces. This is a pretty standard move. They become the arenas for his beloved hockey games with myself, or Nellie-Rose as his doomed-to-lose opponents. The atmosphere here is quite heady with daily dosages of Olympic hockey and Noah’s own brand of early morning, mid-afternoon and evening indoor pick up games.

What is quite remarkable however is Noah’s invention of skates for floor surfaces. He fashions blades with Lego blocks and glides around the basement floor as if it was the most natural thing to do. By now I’m used to seeing Noah and Nellie on their multi-coloured blades but I continue to marvel at the inventiveness that has such transformative powers for Lego blocks. I no longer exclaim about the ingenuity of it all each time I see them but I still smile deeply at the imagination that makes this all possible.

Nellie-Rose is smitten with the new skating technology. She has no ‘real’ skates of her own and hasn’t been on the ice this year. These ‘skates’ put her and Noah on a level playing field. Her recent interest in hockey, gauged by her willingness to play with big brother, has gone through the roof.

The first series of the Lego skates was made with single blocks. Version 2.0 is made with double blocks making for a more comfortably fitting skate. There has also been some experimentation with the blades’ length. The longer blades are hinting at speed skates. Nellie is quite steady on her feet. She moves in an actual skating motion to get her and her Lego from place to place.

Noah takes his ‘skates’ to bed at night maybe in an effort to dream them into real blades. Our lad’s imaginarium is certainly hard at play. It’s great to see him fashioning the world around him and having fun in the process.

This morning he thumped me 10 – 4 in the Eastern Passage gold medal Olympic Classic. That’s right, he was Team Canada.

I’ve got to track down the manufacturer and get myself a pair of those specialty skates for our downstairs scrimmages. Maybe they’ll help me win a game or two.


The days are clear and bright as crystal. Each step crunches as we break through the old snow’s crusty covering. The powder underneath is a fine spray of fresh wisped away almost weightlessly, each flake a granule of geometric perfection. There is a lightness in the air, a cleansing crispness that shines and sculpts faces buffing cheeks and furrowing creases.

An unrehearsed symphony weaves its way in diminishing waves across open spaces. The refreshing crack of pucks and children’s voices are counterpoints to the traffic releasing us from its drone. Slapshotting sticks, squeals of laughter, skates spraying to a stop float across the white expanse. This soundscape rings true like impromptu celebrations, breathless victory dances and joyful embraces of fun.

We are getting a high quotient of snow and ice time over the last couple of weeks. I’m enjoying plenty of kid flashbacks to winter days in North York – extreme tobogganing, outdoor hockey, snowball fights, frozen feet and perpetually wet mittens, the standard stuff.

There have been windows of winter wonder in the adult years just nothing sustained. Alexa and I had a few Citadel Hill sledding adventures and had a blast of Winterlude in Ottawa when we lived there. Halifax is not a blustery winter place. There was no snow on the ground when we left at the end of January. We can’t really lay claim to a deep of winter tradition unlike the culture in Québec as immortalilzed in the Gilles Vigneault classic, Mon Pays.

Sorel has a strong recreation program that maintains several outdoor rinks with boards, lighting and cabanes for changing and warming up. We’ve checked out Parc Nadeau and Parc de la Rivière and have been eyeing the rink at Parc Bibeau. It’s the largest of the ice surfaces we’ve seen.

The skating and hockey are Noah activities. It’s quite amazing the leaps he has taken on our few capades on the ice here. We’ll get Nellie-Rose out next year. By that time Noah will be skating with the greatest of ease and we’ll be able to focus all of our attention on our new skater. Noah will be there to give her a helping hand too.

Neliie-Rose is getting some quality sliding in. The hill is just a short walk from rue Hébert. Raymond and I pull the kids up and give them a little push down. We’ve got the legs for about 20 trips. The kids are still going strong when we start to beg off. Toward the end, Nellie is tumbling off the back of the sled on the way to the top. Our only clue that something is up is Noah’s infectious laughter. When we turn around from our beast of burden duties, there is Nellie sprawled on the hill giggling about 15 metres away.

At the bottom of the run, where the squeals of delight start to trail away, the flats are a sheet of ice. Some of the smooth spots prove tricky for Nellie to keep her footing. She does well though only landing on her bum a couple of times. She improvises a little skating routine pushing her feet out and to the sides in an alternating sequence. She nails the movement and has a nice skating flow on the go minus the blades.

The day before our departure, we are treated to a St. Valentine’s Day sleigh ride. La tante Danièle takes the reins and King and Prince, the gentle giants, pull us along the back trails. It’s a greatly anticipated family adventure in a class all its own. We’re out for over 2 hours and even though it’s a toasty -8 °C and the trees cut the wind to a whisper, I’m very glad Mé ensures I’m wearing the proper gear.

There’s a big gathering at La Halte today. Four sleighs, six horses, five or six dogs and about 25 people are milling about the cabane. There’s a wood stove inside burning hot, bubbling chocolate for fondue with strawberries and pineapples. Hot dogs, toasted buns and all the fixings are the main course. Coffee with liqueur, champagne and beer are the beverages on offer.

There is lots of laughter and camaraderie. Danièle and Richard know everyone under this blue sky clearing. They are a passionate lot. They love their animals, the outdoors and the bonhomie of the woods and sweeping fields. Everyone is welcome to share a few moments of cheer, to befriend the cold, to imagine the days when sleighs ruled the countryside.

An older fellow comes to speak with Danièle. He has a horse he’s been trying to sell for two years, a ringer for King, he says. He wants to know if Danièle is interested. Danièle extends her arm, “My team is here. King and Prince pull this sleigh. I’m not looking for any other horses.” It’s a no pressure pitch. The old guy says, “You never know, he’s getting old…” Danièle is not biting. She’s polite and says she’ll keep in touch.

Out of reach of the horses, Noah, Nellie and Maxime are eyes to the sky, immersed in the snow waving their arms and legs in unison making angels. The white stuff’s powdery texture means no forts, projectiles, sculptures, snowmen, or other fun possibilities of this nature. Now that the yummy Krispy Kreme donuts have all been scarfed the younger adventurers are starting to get restless for this show to get back on the trail. There is one notable exception, Lila-Jeanne. She’s as quiet as falling snow, not a rustle, not a sound.

Noah’s favourite spot is the securely fastened saucer that drags, sometimes flies, behind the sleigh. It glides in a bumpity-bump fashion over everything including generous quantities of road apples in various degrees of freshness. Doris and Sam do whizz, buzz, zips skirting the saucer on each side at full run. Noah hears them charging and looks out of the corner of his eyes for the flash of balled muscles in full stride. They’re our outriders making sure everything is right.

Noah is riding the saucer like a pro. He gets a little additional speed and requests even more juice. Then it happens. The saucer is off the trail. He tips and at the same time King falls to his knees. Prince continues to canter dragging King and the sleigh. I run back for Noah. His tears are quickly dried with a kiss and a hug. He has snow up his nostrils and in his mouth. Despite the scare he hops back into the saucer and continues until we hit the road.

The woods are lively
Light and clear
But biting cold this time of year
I’ll keep you warm, I’ll hold you dear
I’ll not let go, I’ll keep you near.

Apologies to Robert Frost for the doggerel.