Last week Ottawa had its coldest day in eight years: the wind chill surpassed the mark of 40 below zero. For us that came to Canada in 2005, was then our coldest winter day of a lifetime! Just during the weekend we had a bit more normal temperatures for the time. What they call “normal”? let’s Say -20 and up.
With the excuse of the cold then, and knowing how much the topic of Canadian climate scares those in their way to this country, I suggested to our fans in Facebook to ask me questions about Canadian winter in order to write this entry as complete as possible. I read all the questions posted, summarized them, added my particular views on the subject and this is what came out…
The winter and all its related stuff.
While the calendar says that winter goes from December 21 to March 21, nature is wise and warns us as time goes by. If there is something that I admire of living in these latitudes is how climate change is often not sudden but rather staggered.
The cold always starts to feel a little more after Halloween (October 31st) At that time the geese have already started their migration a few weeks ago and there are no news of leaves on the trees. During November the temperature starts to drop significantly and do not be surprised if at some point you find more than frost in the morning.
By the end of March and early April, when you see geese back from the south, is when you take a deep breath and say, “Finally!” In a few weeks you’ll take the BBQ out, change the car tires again and, perhaps, show off your white tummy with those those extra pounds you made while eating chocolates.
In November and before the first snow is the right time to change the tires of the vehicle: remove the “All Season” and beat the thousands of drivers who still refuse to. But let’s talk about that a little further down.
As the temperature gradually changes, the clothing must also gradually change. You will be moving from average warm clothes to perhaps two coat layers. The jacket will not go over the shirt, in between you will choose to wear a sweater. We’ll also talk about how to dress properly for winter.
The cold, the snow and the impact on daily life
The beginning of the winter season is the right time to start listening to the radio every morning and subscribe to mailing lists or twitter services or whatever you have in your city and your school: all the news will go through there. Accidents, service delays, special notices, whatever. Radio and television will be your number one allies to know when the storm arrives and how to be prepared!
For example: if a lot of snow has fallen and there will be no school buses you must plan your day accordingly. Usually, although school buses do not operate, schools remain open but you have to drop off and pick up your children. It may also happen that the urban transport service is delayed or some routes are canceled. But do not worry, although sometimes things can be out of hand in winter, municipalities and provinces have the necessary infrastructure to deal with these things.
Companies usually have their special system to alert you if offices will be opened or not. It is rare that work activities are canceled, but it can happen that many people choose to work from home or arrive later than usual the days when the weather gets worse. It is understood and is part of daily life in the season. Nobody will look bad or sideways because in a snowy day you arrive to the office twenty minutes later. Nor be surprised if the afternoon storm is announced the company decides to let all employees earlier. Winter has those things and you do not fool around with cold and snow.
Someone left an interesting question related to the provisions of fresh fruits and vegetables during the winter. Maybe it’s me, but I have not noticed a substantial decline during the winter. There are fresh products most of the season as many of them are imported year round in the country. You’ll have strawberries, mango and bananas even if it is minus forty outside.
The thing is that with snow, no snow, with less than ten, twenty or minus forty, life goes on and we move on. The country does not stop and no one is expected to be in a cave until April. So the thing is how to go outside and face the weather.
The trick is highly related to how you dress up. Depending on your activity during the day you can choose more or less protection. Same with children. For example: I drive every day from home to work. I leave home, I wait for the school bus at the corner with the boys, I get in the car, get to the office, I get off and stay indoors most of the time. The boys, however, they will go to school and take breaks and play (if temperature permits). Their exposure to cold and snow will be higher.
For me with a pair of jeans (maybe “long johns” below), a sweater, a jacket, hat and gloves is good enough. For my children it’s not. They need winter clothing that allows them to play and roll in the snow, gloves that do not get wet inside, boots that withstand high temperatures.
What if you have to take the city bus? It is supposed that the bus has a predetermined schedule. And that is so that people do not have to wait in vain for several minutes. You can leave your home long enough to not freeze and get to the bus stop when you need. The bus, of course, is heated (the school bus too!) Some bus stations in some places, too (but it’s not usual) For those who live in big cities like Montreal or Toronto, there are underground paths network downtown to protect you from inclement weather: Toronto’s PATH and Montreal RESO.
But if you are not lucky enough to be in Montreal or Toronto, then you have to bundle up and protect to prevent not only catching a cold, but also get hurt. Prolonged exposure to cold can be dangerous: you can end up in the hospital with “frostbite” and may even get your fingers amputated. Seriously, no kidding! But don’t be scared, just be cautious and respectful of the cold.
There are temperatures that you should stay indoors and not go out unless necessary. If it’s -40 and school does not close, the boys go to school and one at work. Life will go on but no one should be out unless really need it.
Since we’re talking about the street, let’s talk also about clothing.
As mentioned above, it all depends on your activity. There’s no need to go to the office with -40 boots and snow pants if you drive there. Just put on a pair of long underwear and if you really need more get a hat, gloves, scarf and a good jacket.
But the children, as we said, they need more. They go out to play and they love playing in the snow. They love to lie on the floor, do things with the snow, run in the ice… The boys play, no matter the weather. But you have to educate them, teach them, and protect them.
They need warm pants and shirts, sweaters, scarves, gloves and hats that do not allow the cold and snow in as it will melt and transform in water becomes. You must prevent their extremities to be wet and thaw. It is very important to use good quality stuff. Choose good waterproof clothing and do not let the water through.
Both children and adults need to dress in layers: have enough protection in the outside, but once you are indoors one can go as far as taking out enough to be comfortable. Remember, it is important to avoid perspiration and moisture generated in the upper and lower extremities. To protect the head is key: that is where most of the heat gets out of the body. A good hat helps to keep you warm!
Are winter clothes expensive? Yes and no. There is clothing for all tastes and budgets. From True North and Ugg to Walmart through local brands. It’s a matter of going out and buying on your budget, but knowing that some things may last less than a season or two. Quality clothing for our children can last two seasons. If the quality is good, they pass from the oldest to the younger for a few more seasons.
Not sure if it’s a good idea to buy winter clothes in our countries. The Canadian winter clothes for the purchase in non-northern countries are for the wealthy that enjoy skiing. Winter clothing in Canada is every day stuff. Therefore, the economic law of supply and demand gives you more chances to get good winter clothing at a more reasonable price.
There is another thing you will not find in your country: organizations helping low-income people with their winter clothing. An d remember that most of the times, newcomers qualify as ”low income”. In Ottawa we have the Snowsuit Fund for example: they donate or offer winter clothing for children at low cost. I advise you to investigate similar organizations or second hand shops in your city. Sometimes you get good things.
What we do with the kids in winter?
Although you may think not, there are many things you can do in winter. Life goes on, my friends. The country does not stop and people continue with their normal lives. Sure, there may be more indoor activities than outdoor ones, but that should not be problem.
The museums are still open, also are shopping malls. Your house or your friend’s ones may always have the doors open for everyone. Community centers have swimming pools for a swim while the snow falls outside or rinks to learn ice skating.
Outside is also fun: jumping hills for sledding is always fun. Those who know how can do country or alpine skiing. Or racket. Or jogging. Or simply walking. A walk on a -10 sunny day is as pleasant as can be done in winter.
Go outside with the kids or by yourself is essential. To remain indoors is dangerous to mental and physical health. The winter if not enjoyed can very long and painful.
There are places specially designed for these times with children games. The boys spend a great time there.
With regard to school: unless there is a risk of freezing, the guys always go out for recess to play. Teach them to enjoy winter! It’s a beautiful season with beautiful landscapes.
Housing and the cost of winter
The winter is usually more expensive. Beginning with the cost of heating, then clothing, footwear, fuel, indoor rides… everything costs a little more.
Personally I have had very bad experiences with electric heating. If you rent a place with electric heating, have the foresight to negotiate a fixed amount per month of rent including the cost of heating. To pay for electric heating separately can be death. An example: when we came to Canada in 2005 we rented an apartment in Hull, QC for which we paid 750 CAD per month fixed and where we spent our first Canadian winter. Electric heating was included. No matter how much we used and at what temperature, we always paid the same. When we moved to Ottawa in 2008 we rented a house with electric heating but it was not included in the rental fee. I remember my dismay when I received an electricity bill for CAD 750… that should add to the thousand and something for the rent!
However, the gas heating has always been more gentle with my budget. Perhaps the cost per serving is less or we make more efficient use, but in 2012 I had to pay a $ 1,200 of gas throughout the year and around 400 and some of electricity.
I think that electric heating has no advantage. Above all, there are more frequent power outages during the winter than gas! And during that period of time, better wrap up because your home can become the North Pole!
I think there are two fundamental secrets to consumption cost: regularly monitor the thermostat and check that all is well sealed and insulated.
The thermostat in our house during the winter is about 19 degrees, 19 and a half. At night, when it’s colder outside, perhaps we sleep with about 21 degrees. We have a programmable thermostat so we choose what temperature we want every day of the week and at different time windows. For example: 20 to 7 which is when you sleep, the temperature should be at 21 degrees. Between 7 and 4, when no one is home, with 19 is right. From 4pm until the evening, we fly up to about 20. And so.
For those living in apartments surrounded by neighbors, sometimes the savings can be greater. Heating used by your neighbors on either side are transmitted through your walls also: advantages of wood construction.
The insulation is important: check your doors and windows often. Do not let cold in and keep the house comfortable and warm.
You should also be careful with the exterior. Always keep one or two shovels handy. During snow days you will have to clean the driveway and the doorsteps to get in and out of the house. A bag of salt should always accompany. Salt melt the ice and do not allow you to slip. Do not let ice forming! Use salt to clean as soon as the temperature permits and snow has stopped.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the Canadians, is that foresight is the secret. The house is no exception to this, and so we must learn to prepare for winter housing.
And if we talk about cost, the car is no exception. In winter fuel consumption is higher: you use more heating, grip with winter tires is greater, the fuel gases contract and need more volume to occupy the same space.
In some cases, you must also make special preparations for the car in winter: use more dense oil , check you have enough windshield washer fluid, and even have a special kit in the trunk with blankets, a shovel, booster cables, battery charging and other things.
There are also higher risks of accidents. For some unknown reason, the uglier the weather conditions, the worst people drive. Canada That is a Canadian mystery I have not managed to uncover!
Winter driving is not simple. The problem is not much snow but ice. The ice that forms in the streets and highways requires us to drive not only slowly but be warned of our maneuvers and the neighbor’s. The braking distance also increases.
Do I need to use chains, nails and four wheel drive? No. For now, chains and nails are for the middle of the tundra and not for use in a city. The four wheel drive is a “nice to have” but in my opinion what is NOT to be missed are winter tires (which are mandatory in QC, by the way!)
The winter tires have a special compound in its rubber that gives it more elasticity at low temperatures and a design which enables better grip on the road. When you change the tires is very noticeable: the car seems to be heavier. In summer, when the ”All Season” are back, you will feel like driving and F1 car!
Why are “All Season” tires useless in the winter? Because the rubber is different, it freezes and does not have the necessary grip. You can use the All Season until a couple of snow falls, but when the road begins to freeze… you will want to drive straight!
I remember my first day driving in snow. I got to an “Arret” round the corner of the department and stepped on the brake as if it was summer: the car never stoped. Bah, the tires stopped turning, but they never had any grip and led me through the intersection before the astonished gaze of Quebecers in the neighborhood. Can you imagine the accident if one of the others had decided to start moving without waiting to see what happened with me? Well, these accidents are very common in winter. Be cautious!
Can you use the motorcycle in winter? Nobody drives a motorcyle in subzero temperatures. While insurance covers you 12 months, is very dangerous. Weather conditions do not help, there are more risks of skidding, you can not see (fogs in the helmet visor for example) Just leave your bike in the garage, get your car in the winter. You can use the bike between June and September.
Winter is a very nice season. You can enjoy as much as any other. Just be careful and very respectful of the snow and ice.
Take the time to share good meetings with family and friends or to take good photos. Learn to skate or ski. Do not stay locked up in your house. Go outside and play with your children even a few minutes each day.
Winter is another of the beautiful things to enjoy in Canada, it has something to teach you and, like everything else, you get used to winter also.
Share your experience in the Canadian winter
I want you to leave me a comment with your impressions and advice about winter. What would you have liked to know about before you get winter and you learned here? What advice would you give to others?
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