When I was young, a family moved in down the street; a married couple with a kid or two. They came from somewhere in Africa. Apparently during their transition to Canada, nobody had told them about getting through the Canadian winter. One day in September, during the first light dusting of snow for the year, the husband was found cowering underneath his vehicle. He’d never seen snow before. He thought we were under attack.
As I write this, the temperature outside my frosted window is -30° Celsius (that’s about -22° Fahrenheit for my American friends), which is a pretty cold day but not unusual, I’d say, for a typical Canadian winter. We have, however, had heavy snowfall as well over the last few days, which has reminded me that this might be the first time that some newcomers have experienced winter here. I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned that have helped me to survive the Canadian winter.
First and foremost, you’re going to need proper clothing. Fleece is a great choice. Anything knit with wool or made from a wool fabric is going to be warm. Leather (and especially sheepskin) is quite warm as well as being pretty tough wearing. In my experience, you get what you pay for when it comes to winter gear, so invest where you are able to.
You’re going to need a really good jacket and really good boots. If you are only able to invest in one good item, let it be a jacket because this will keep you warmest. For boots, there are a lot of great brands to choose from but some of the most popular would be Sorel or Bogs. Personally I wear a pair of leather New Rocks with thick socks underneath. Get something with a really good tread. Slipping on ice is a common hazard. As a general rule of thumb for surviving the Canadian winter, you should look for boots that are rated for -35 to -40.
A toque, mittens, and a scarf or other style of neck warmer will be great to have. Keep your fingers and ears warm and you will reduce the risk of frostbite (which is just as scary as it sounds). Your skin can freeze in a minute or less out in the cold.
Dress in layers. It is not uncommon for someone to wear five or six layers of clothing just on their torso. Whatever it takes to keep you warm, that’s what you should do to survive the Canadian winter.
If you’re going to be outside for an extended length of time you may want to invest in a good pair of ski pants which will insulate and keep your legs warm.
Driving is never as dangerous as it is in winter. Here in Saskatchewan we tend to get a lot of snow and really cold temperatures. We also get some fairly mild temperatures, which can pose a problem for the roads. It is not uncommon for us to have a few warm days which melts a lot of the ice and snow on the roads only to have them refreeze during the next cold day. Driving can become a nightmare real quick. Safely is a must. This means breaking early for stop signs, lights, or turns, and paying extra special attention to the drivers around you who may go into a skid. Drive slowly and mindfully and you should do great.
Winter tires are a hefty investment, but one that any Canadian driver will tell you is worth it. There is a huge difference in the traction you are able to get on ice when you have tires specifically designed for such road conditions. If you can afford them, do it.
If you’re going to be driving on the highway you better prepare your vehicle. Keep a few thick blankets in your car as well as a few candles and other warm supplies. That way if your car breaks down on a frozen highway you will be able to keep yourself warm until help arrives.
Plug your vehicle in if it’s going to get really cold overnight. Your block heater is your friend. It is common knowledge during the Canadian winter that if your car doesn’t start in the morning due to the cold your employer will have no sympathy for you because you should have known better. In addition to this rule remember to unplug your block heater before trying to drive away. I’ve done it myself where I’ve completely ripped the cord out of the engine block because I forgot to unplug it before leaving for work in the morning. This year so far I have seen no less than three people driving down main roads with their block heater cord trailing behind them to the intersections. Save yourself the hassle and the expense repairing a broken block heater by reminding yourself to unplug it.
Keep Warm and Keep Busy
As much as you’re going to want to stay inside and be a hermit all season long, you should try to go out when you can for fresh air and as much sunshine as you can soak up during the short days. It can be detrimental to your overall mental health to keep yourself boarded up in your home hibernating rather than getting outside.
Space heaters can be a great way to warm up areas of your home or office that are not effectively heated through the usual means. Be wary of the safety literature that comes with the unit as space heaters can become a fire hazard if improperly used.
Get some really good books to curl up with to get you through the long, cold nights. It gets dark very soon during the winter months and you will need something to keep your mind fresh occupied. If books aren’t your thing, doing puzzles can keep you sharp.
Certain foods are optimal when eaten during the winter months such as chili. A nice big bowl of hot chili when you’re chilly can be very comforting. If you don’t drink tea already, you may want to pick up a few flavors to try as a nice hot cup of tea can be very effective in warming your chilled bones.
Winter is the perfect time to get a gym membership. Getting enough exercise outside is more difficult or impossible depending on the conditions. At the gym you can get all the exercise you need while staying warm and comfortable.
Stay warm out there!