Spring in Ontario is our split-personality season. In March the snow melts, the ground heaves, buckles and turns into a muddy mess until one day, sometime in April or May, the temperature soars and the sun bakes the lumpy earth pottery-hard.
Spring is a short season in Ontario, given over to gardening, fishing, maple syrup making, and getting ready for summer.
The poor plants go through what, in most places, is a three month season in a few short days.
The trees tell the story best, going from bare twisted twigs, through palest green leaves, followed by blossoms and then dark lush leaves that last until autumn.
The first sign winter is ending in Ontario isn’t, however, a natural event at all.
When the frost’s grip weakens, all but the most important roads are easily damaged by heavy vehicles so the government posts ‘Weight Restriction’ signs on side streets.
Another sign winter is over is the (ice) hockey playoffs. At the senior professional level it has its own cup, the Stanley Cup, donated by Governor-general, Lord Stanley, early last century, but for most Ontarians, playoff season is small kids and their parents strutting proudly out of arenas with medals or trophies excitedly discussing that near miss, the great save or an amazing goal. This is also a time of changeover from hockey to soccer or baseball as the seasons overlap.
In the muddy, thawing stage, Ontario’s maple trees sport shiny sap buckets or, in these modern times, spigots with plastic tubing that snakes off to a ‘Sugar Shack’ in the lowest part of the forest where the sap is collected in a great cauldron.
Heating the sap, by burning deadwood collected from the surrounding forest, evaporates off the water leaving behind sugary syrup.
Local Sugar Shacks do ‘pancake breakfasts’ during the March school spring break with sleigh or cart rides for the kids. Maple syrup and maple sugar are popular treats but mainly, nowadays, for special occasions and tourists.
In the sunny part of the second stage, Ontario’s trees are covered in blossom -- this is particularly true around Niagara where most of Ontario’s fruit orchards lie. Here the apple and cherry blossom is so thick it makes the land look like it snowed again and the Niagara Parkway is filled with visitors taking in the sight.
Spring in Ontario also means public parks filled with flowers, in this case tulips, partly because Holland sends Canada tens of thousands of bulbs each year as a thank you for sheltering the Dutch King and Queen throughout WW2, and partly because the waxy tulip petals and plants survive the heat better than the daffodils, crocuses or snowdrops of that came here from Britain. They don't, however, survive the squirrels who consider them a foreign delicacy and dig them up by the ton, which is probably why Holland has to keep sending more.
Ontario has few spring flowers of its own; so few that one of them, the Trillium, is the ‘Provincial Flower’ and it appears as a logo on everything from driving licences to provincially owned liquor stores. Ontario has ‘old world’ spring flowers but they're planted as annuals. Mainly because any bulbs the squirrels don’t eat are killed by the sun -- the day after they emerge from a snowdrift. Consequently they never develop any strength for a second season.
Spring in Ontario is is also the time of the great migrations. In the muddy half of the season, trucks towing snowmobiles stream south to wait out the summer on suburban driveways and then, in the sunny half, trucks towing boats flock north, nose-to-tail, as Torontonians return to their cottages on the thousands of thawed-out lakes.
Less noticeably, many animals also migrate through southern Ontario, the oddest being the Monarch butterfly, which winters in Mexico (like many Ontarians) and returns to Ontario with the sunshine. This is no mean feat for a small winged worm not much bigger than a bumble bee.
Spring in Ontario is also a busy time if you're into fishing. Streams swollen with melting ice and snow are a temporary home to amorous Lake Ontario spring trout, and other fish, making their way upstream to mate and lay their eggs. Some of these fish, carp and salmon, are huge, larger than small children, and large enough to be stranded if the waters recede too quickly.
Another Ontario water monster is the snapping turtle, which, along with the other turtle species, can be seen warming themselves on banks or beached logs in the warm spring sunshine. Their hooked beaks and sharp claws look like they could chomp and tear flesh very easily. They’re probably why so many Ontarians, in a land full of natural lakes, have backyard pools. And that’s the final event of spring – in almost every household the annual pool opening weekend marks the unofficial start of summer.
If you'd like to see more of what Ontario can offer in springtime, visit our page -- Spring Photos Ontario
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