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Winter in Canada

As I write today, the temperature is a frigid -31° and snowy, so I feel particularly well qualified to share my thoughts with you about Canada’s winter experience.

No doubt about it, winter weather conditions in many parts of Canada can be harsh at times. High windchills, heavy snowfall, blizzards, freezing rain and extremely cold temperatures all pose a hazard to those travelling or venturing outside.

Some parts of Canada don’t get much snow and ice in winter but many Canadians battle tough weather conditions and slippery roads for almost six months each year. The “white stuff” generally starts to arrive in late October and can often stay around until March or later. Although winter weather can be harsh, we are fortunate that the truly “deep freeze” cold snaps tend not to last more than a few weeks at a time and in many parts of Canada the sun shines all winter long, which is a great lift for the spirit.

If you’ve never experienced harsh winter weather before and your definition of cold is when you open the freezer door, then you may be tempted to spend your first winter in Canada taking refuge indoors. Resist the urge to hide from winter. Develop your winter survival skills, with help from the tips listed, and you too will learn, in true Canadian spirit, to embrace and celebrate winter in all its glory.

To combat the cold:

  • Check the weather forecast (and road reports) before going outdoors or travelling. Pay particular attention to windchill, which can create dangerously cold conditions. Bring along extra clothing in case there is a sudden weather change.
  • Dress warmly in layers, preferably with a wind and waterproof outer layer. Look for outerwear (hats, boots and gloves) containing Thinsulate Insulation. Thin layers of loose fitting clothing (fleece) will trap your body heat while aiding air circulation. Outer clothing should preferably be hooded, tightly woven, and repel water. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat, as most of your body heat is lost through your head. If it is extremely cold, cover your mouth to protect your lungs from the cold air.
  • Winter bootPurchase good quality knee length winter boots for all family members. Some of the more expensive winter boots will withstand temperatures of -70°, so your feet will be snug all winter if you make this purchase a top priority.
  • When choosing footwear for daily use, ask for “winterised” boots and shoes. These will have a thermal insole and will keep your feet much warmer than regular shoes.

Driving in winter:

Most newcomers to Canada are likely to be unfamiliar, and perhaps even a little terrified, at the prospect of driving in snowy and icy conditions. Although it may seem like an unwelcome extra expense during your first winter in Canada, purchasing a set of winter tyres may well be a very sound investment.

If you feel confused about choosing suitable winter tyres, you should be aware that in 1999 Transport Canada announced a new industry standard to help Canadian consumers identify and buy snow tyres that provide a higher level of traction for Canada’s harsh winter conditions.

Transport Canada's winter tyre symbol - a pictograph of a snowflake superimposed on a mountainLook for snow/ice tyres marked with a pictograph of a mountain and snowflake on the side of the tyre. This design indicates that tyres have met specific snow traction performance requirements, and have been designed specifically for use in severe snow conditions.

In some provinces there may be no provincial regulations requiring the use of either snow tyres or chains. The purchase of winter tyres is at the discretion of the vehicle owner. While it is legal in some provinces to use chains and studded tyres, these are usually only needed for extreme driving conditions on highways or in the mountains (where they may be mandatory in some provinces during the winter season).

Winter Pleasures:

Despite the winter weather, each year, dozens of cities throughout Canada hold festivals to celebrate the winter months. Join in the fun! Here are just a few of Canada’s best-known winter festivals for you to enjoy:

  • Carnaval de Québec, Quebec City
  • Winterlude, Ottawa
  • Calgary Winterfest
  • Festival du Voyageur, St. Boniface, Manitoba

If you have the time and ability, you may prefer to take part in more strenuous, but low cost, winter activities such as tobogganing, skating, snowshoeing or cross country skiing.

Tobogganing is a good old-fashioned activity that is great fun and good exercise – plus the hike up the hill preceding the slide down is great winter fitness for all the family. A large plastic garbage bag can do the trick if you don’t have a toboggan/sled. Local parks often provide an instant gentle ski slope for the children! Most stores sell basic toboggans and sleds for under $20. Remind kids to wear head protection and look ahead to ensure there is plenty of room before they proceed down the hill.

Skating is also a great family pastime and can be done both indoors and outdoors depending on the winter weather in your area. The great thing about this popular winter pastime is that outdoor skating is free! Many neighbourhoods maintain outdoor rinks and rent equipment at reasonable prices or you can also skate on the park lakes and lagoons. Be sure to wear head protection as well as properly fitted skates.

Snowshoeing is becoming one of the hottest ways to stay fit in the cold. Walkers, runners, and hikers are turning to snowshoeing as their winter sport of choice. It’s a fun and inexpensive way for you and your family to get outside, and if you can put one foot in front of the other, you can showshoe! After two minutes of practice, you’ll be cruising around like you were born with snowshoes on your feet. Even better, snowshoeing burns up to a whopping 1,000 calories an hour!

Cross-country skiing together as a family is a great winter workout and the cost is quite inexpensive compared to downhill (alpine) skiing. It offers more time to spend with your skiing companions, breathe in the clean air, and view the majestic scenery. With more than 500 ski areas across Canada you can cross-country ski practically anywhere.

Stay warm, have fun, play safe and enjoy the delights that Canada’s winter has to offer you and your family.

Good luck with your move!

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