The Dream of Spring: How Thunder Bay Wakes up from Winter

March 2019

“Spring is when you feel like whistling, even with a shoe full of slush.” - Doug Larson

Regardless of whether you made New Year’s Resolutions or not, the beginning of spring brings with it a sense of optimism, of new life and new hope, of warmer days and shorter nights. Here in Thunder Bay, however, we experience spring differently than other parts of the world. It takes months to see the first signs of green grass or birch buds, and rather than April showers bringing May flowers, April icestorms often bring May winterkill. Yet, as citizens of the north, we still are filled with the giddy, cheery promise of spring – its clean slate and boundless possibilities. But why?
“Spring is about optimism,” says writer Makenzi Fisk. “It’s about hope and a fresh new start.”

“An optimist is the human personification of spring.” - Susan J. Bissonette

“Fresh air, open windows, the smell of dirt and the birds with brand new songs,” says photographer Laura Heerema. “Longer days of sunlight and warmer rays. It’s a renewing of the senses and the souls.”

It’s easy to identify the physical markers of spring, but what’s intriguing are the deeper, subjective and psychological aspects often mentioned. The renewing of the soul; optimism; hope. I turned to my friend Webster and his dictionary for help.

Hope: A feeling of expectation, and a desire for something to happen; a feeling of trust.

“Spring is a physical, emotional and spiritual representation of hope,” says Charmaine M, a retired nurse and counsellor. “New life, new growth, the promise of new things to come. Wouldn’t it be sad if we only had one season?”

“Spring doesn’t exist in Thunder Bay, as far as I’m concerned,” says Susan R, a well-travelled journalist who now calls Thunder Bay home. “Yet the rhythm of the seasons must be innate. I loathe house cleaning but in the spring I’m motivated to polish the woodwork, wash the curtains, oil the wood furniture, and take the books off the shelves to give a thorough dusting. It’s like I’m possessed!”

Ah yes, the traditional spring clean. I know for me, the first week of January is an excuse to remove the pine bows, dark blankets and cozy plaids of winter, and exchange them for pastel throw cushions, botanical prints and fresh paint. Very psychological indeed. But why clean in the spring when we won’t see grass or leaves for months? Why the inherent but curiously timed need for change?

“Spring represents a period of renewal,” says Peter H, a Northerner who jokingly called his university days in North Bay a ‘voyage south’. “We purge our stockpiles of winter hoarding and get a new lease on life. We shift from general hibernation into preparation. Promise and reprieve are the combination that make it so potent, I think. ­Hibernation to Preparation. I can relate to that.
“We’re animals,” says retired art and drama teacher, Dawne K. “And smart animals hibernate in the winter. Spring is our wake up call. I think we all really get stirred by the return of the sun.”

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” - Hal Borland

I sense the sun as a recurring theme. Thunder Bay does sit atop the list of Ontario’s sunniest cities, and rivalling Calgary and Edmonton for daily hours of sunshine. Is our affection for spring a symptom of our dependence on, or connection to, the sun?

“Yes, for me, it’s the days getting longer,” says Arin B, a parole officer and former building contractor. “For months, we’re living in the dark and that’s what makes spring exciting for me. An exodus out of the darkness.”

“The light,” affirms LU Radio host Lisa Ferris. “We just get so much more light. It makes me excited for the green to come.”

The association of spring and anticipation of ‘better things to come’ seems to be universal, even in the northwest where spring is little more than a rush to melt four months of snow. But if it’s spring in Canada, it’s autumn Down Under, so I reached out to my friend in New Zealand, Keitha Smith, to see what those in the southern hemisphere feel about the change of season.

“I think spring is a universal concept,” says Smith. “As others have said, it’s a time of new life – new leaves, lots of New Zealand spring lambs, spring flowers, etc. That feeling of having the worst of winter behind you and the anticipation of the summer to come. The only thing that differs for us is the when!”

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” - Anne Bradstreet

So even though we may still have months left of long nights, snowstorms, slushy boots and setbacks, we Northerners are a hardy bunch. We are optimists, after all, living in hope of those few, fleeting, sweet months of summer before resigning ourselves to the return of the cold and the slush and the dark. And so, we wait and we hope and we clean and we prepare, listening for the first few notes of the white-throated sparrow and watching for the first trickle of melting snow down the drive. It’s over in a heartbeat and suddenly, summer is here, but for months in between and for reasons unknown, we are carried out of the dark upon our dream of spring.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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