Thursday, November 25, 2010

I Smell a Story

Photo: Cottage in Northern Ontario. Smell the pine needles?

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! I'll bet you smell turkey right now. What goes with it - sage, apples, sausage, corn bread - wafts around the house while family members catch up.

Smells trigger so many emotions and memories for me. The powdery smell of a baby's head, the crisp odour of dry leaves on Halloween night and warm damp earth in the spring -- all make me glad to be alive.

When I write about different locations, I find it natural to include smells as well as sights. We often describe odours in bars, houses, flower shops and on people. The delicate smell of a special perfume or comfort food can trigger memories, but cities and towns also have a their own brand of olfactory uniqueness.

The lovely old city of Saint John, New Brunswick smells like hot road tar mixed with sea salt because of the proximity of the oil refineries along the Bay of Fundy. When I smell tar, I go back to the days when I was a kid, wandering with my cousins in search of mischief. I see in my mind's eye the multicoloured wooden houses with white trim. I remember steep hills leading down to the bay.

Northern Ontario smells like wood smoke and pine needles. It will always remind me of camping and warm rocks glazed with soft lichen.

My husband says Toronto smelled like rising dough when he was a kid, due to the flour and sugar mills along the shores of Lake Ontario.

Then there were the little lumber towns in northern Quebec. We lived in Chandler on the Gaspé Peninsula when I was seven years old. It always seemed to smell like an enormous fart.

Newmarket doesn't have many distinctive odours, except perhaps the smell of newly cut grass on a summer day, or lilacs. In winter I smell the snow. Really. I can't describe it, though.

What does your town smell like? Do any smells take you back to a place you once lived, or a special memory of a family gathering?

 Mmmm... My grandmother's Pette de Soeur (nun farts). The cinnamon smell takes me back to when I was five years old and stopped at her apartment on the way to kindergarten. I ate the yummy warm treats while sitting on the hallway floor with my wet boots resting on newspapers.

Sandra Cormier lived in many communities around the world. She now resides in Ontario, Canada. Bad Ice, a hockey romance, is her second novel.


Big Mike said...

My most memorable smell was as a kid and my grandmother was cooking Sunday dinner southern style. Cornbread, salted ham, pintos, okra, corn, potatoes with there skin left on, biscuits, oh lord could that woman cook.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Allison Knight said...

At my grandma's house, you always made a bee line for the milk house, a little room off the kitchen where they separated and bottled the milk. There was a cupboard against one wall with a large shelf that pulled away from the body of the cupboard and Grandma always had her cakes or pies cooling on that shelf. And fried chicken! Nobody could cook chicken like Grandma.