I may have grown up with Canadian winters, but I’m not going to gush about sloshy, splashy mess that is Toronto sidewalks in the sloppy season. All that water that in summer makes the region so lush, in winter turns to slush. If it happens to freeze, it is assaulted with salt and turns into a shoe-staining muck, and the gutters are galling gulches of sole destruction.

What to do, though? Either trudge in heavy boots – which you may have to keep on inside too unless you carry a spare pair of lighter shoes – or wear comfortable shoes that will soon be soaked through and thereafter caked with baleful salt stains. You’re stuck between a marsh and a wet place. With every step you push through the slush and ask if there is a better way.

And as you swish through it it answers, “Galosh. Galosh. Galosh. Galosh.”

But are you listening? Do you have galoshes? Have you ever had galoshes? Do you know where to get galoshes? Or are you at a losh? I mean a loss?

Surely you’ve heard of them. The word galosh is, granted, also used at times as a simple synonym for a rubber boot. But really galoshes are boots made to go over shoes. They were originally strap-on clogs that could elevate the feet above the muck. The word may come ultimately via Latin from Greek κᾱλόπους kalopous ‘wooden foot’, or perhaps from Latin gallicae ‘Gaulish shoes’, shoes with wooden soles and leather uppers. We’re not sure; we only know we got it from French galoche. But we do know that the wood was put aside once vulcanized rubber was available and Goodyear made the wet season a betterseason.

What we don’t know now – I don’t, anyway – is where we can get galoshes now. You can’t get them at Canadian Tire. You can’t get them at the Hudson’s Bay Company. You can’t get them at Mark’s Work Wearhouse. You can’t get them at Sears. You can’t get them at Holt Renfrew. I’m at a bit of a loss. My mother, who suggested this word (no doubt in hopes that I am keeping my feet warm and dry), says she’s heard you can get them somewhere. But they’re no longer a common item.

Maybe this is because leather shoes are not such a universal thing anymore. Those who do wear them generally have the means to keep their shoes dry: along with better sidewalk drainage and paved streets, we have built a society where it can be possible to spend nearly all your time inside if you want – inside buildings, inside parking garages, inside your car. Canadians, who like to make much of their hardiness, are really mostly urban cave dwellers. You can get across downtown Toronto – or downtown Calgary or Edmonton or Montreal – without stepping outside.

But of course many of us still do step outside. I walk four blocks to catch the streetcar every morning, and cross badly drained corners on my way in to work, and I walk around the city on weekends too, trudging through the salty sludge and gutter pools of slush. My lack of galoshes is my loss.

4 responses to “galosh

  1. This is a delightful description of walking in the city in winter. As for buying galoshes, try Amazon:

  2. My colleague at General Synod has a pair. I have also seen them at The Bay by my office. I will ping him this article to see if he can help.

  3. In Montreal we grew up calling them overshoes not galoshes but tended instead to wear “winter boots” that invariably got soaked and stained. I do remember walking to school when both I and the temperatures were in the single digits (Farenheit in those days). I wore my school-required oxfords inside fuzzy lined dark brown rubber overshoes each of which had a distinctive metal circle that was the buckle the rubber strap to do up the top went through. In the 1990s I remember going into an old fashioned shoe store in Jamestown, NY, famous to me as home of Natalie Merchant of the then 10,000 Maniacs, and being disproportionately thrilled to find rubber overshoes made to fit snugly over the bottom of tall boots or over shoes. I promptly bought them to protect my leather riding boots from mud and much when not in the saddle. The internet has made things much easier, here for $31 USD are probably a pair very similar to what Anne found for you on Amazon. The same brand as the shoestyle overshoes I bought for my riding boots. I also enjoyed your list of shops in Toronto. Strange not to see Eaton’s on the list and I wonder if Holt Renfrew ever carried something as strictly functional as overshoes or galoshes. In Montreal, the old Ogilvy’s would have. Ours probably came from a shoe store called Smithers. Thank you for the unexpected trip down slushy, salty, wet footed, memory lane.

  4. Kathy O'Donnell

    If you want the really old-school Sherman-tank go-forever ones, try thrift stores; the best ones for this kind of thing are those with a religious affiliation; the older folk who are downsizing into a retirement residence or some such tend to favour them for donations. That’s where I go for the old-style cooking and baking tools, like my beloved rotary-wire sifter and my strawberry huller. I don’t know how you feel about second-hand goods, but I think the idea is a natural extension of the thrifty, sensible, take-care-of-your-things, pass-them-on ethic of the galosh generation.

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