Living in Canada: Handling the Winter Weather

Toronto By Blueiriscity [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Downtown Toronto in the Snow by Blueiriscity / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s the morning of New Year’s Day in Toronto, and you need to stock up your fridge because with all the excitement and buzz of the holidays you somehow forgot about buying groceries. Outside it’s minus 17 degrees Celsius with a wind howling off Lake Ontario. You stare out the window of your walk-up apartment on Dovercourt Road and decide you’ll have to brave the cold in search of groceries. Welcome to the New Year in Canada!

But are there any stores open in the morning after the New Year’s celebrations?

Of course, there are! This is Canada, after all. You turn on your laptop or flip through some pages on your cellphone and you see that unfortunately, Popbox Micromarket, just up the street on Dovercourt, won’t open until 11 AM. Thankfully, a 10-minute walk away at Bloor and Huron, or a couple of stops on the TTC’s Bloor subway line, you’ll find a Galleria Supermarket that’s been open since 7 AM. Toronto in 2018 always has somewhere open for your convenience, even if it happens to be almost 20 below. That too, is Canada.

Winter is a fact of life in Canada. Even in cities with milder winters like Victoria or Vancouver on the West Coast. You assume that you’ll have to change to snow tires on your car. You get a check-up at Canadian Tire to make sure your windshield wipers and wiper fluid and your engine and brakes are ready for winter driving, and you hopefully have had lessons in how to handle icy or snowy conditions on the roads. There’s no way around it. There. Will. Be. Snow. This is Canada after all. So, it’s best to try and adapt to winter and make the best of it. And even find ways to enjoy all that cold and snow!

Of course, if you live in the suburbs of the GTA, you’ll likely only have to brave the cold between your car and the entrance to the shopping mall. Garages are generally heated, and your car will have a heater that quickly brings the temperature up to a comfortable level, unless it’s 30 below outside.

Not only that, in cities like Toronto and Montreal, you will find an underground network of pedestrian tunnels that connect shopping centres and office buildings and that go on for blocks and blocks so that you can stay inside on a cold winter’s day when you do your shopping. Think of them like a stretched-out mall because the so-called tunnels are usually lined with stores. They also connect to the cities’ subway systems.

So, how do you enjoy winter in Canada? The quickest way is to learn to love the game that takes up winter, most of fall, and almost all of spring – if your team is lucky enough to make it to the Stanley Cup finals: ice hockey. Or just plain hockey, as Canadians tend to say. From Kelvington, Saskatchewan to a backyard rink in Brantford, hockey is played from coast to coast and is by far the most popular sport in Canada. While Canadians follow a wide variety of sports in keeping with the country’s diversity, hockey remains the beating, sweaty heart of the land.

Skiing and snowboarding are also high on the list of winter activities. You will need to drive a fair distance to get to most ski hills, but you can find good skiing a little more than an hour’s drive from places like Toronto and Montreal. Blue Mountain, north of Toronto, can even be reached by public transport and bus. Montreal has ski resorts to the Northwest, up the Laurentian autoroute (autoroute is what they call highways in Quebec) and to the East, in the Eastern Townships of the province. And Vancouver has Whistler, one of the world’s best ski resorts, a mere two hours away up one of the world’s most scenic mountain and coastal routes.

So, after you’ve done your shopping at the Galleria Supermarket and grabbed a cab or taken the subway back home, maybe you should think about buying a pair of skates. You do have a pair of skates don’t you? No?? Ok, time to head to Goalie Heaven on Bloor Street West just past the intersection with Dundas Street West. Once you’re outfitted with a pair of skates, it’s time to check out all the public skating rinks in Toronto (and around Canada of course) where you can start to learn how to skate. Christie Pits – the large public park with lots of green space and sports facilities like baseball fields and a large swimming pool – is about 6 blocks from Dovercourt at Bloor Street and Christie. From late November to mid March their public rink is open for skating. Look for their website and find out when you can use the rink.

When the snow starts to melt – and that depends on where you live in Canada but it’s usually from late March through early April unless you live somewhere like Whitehorse – then Canadians thoughts turn to enjoying the great outdoors with no snow and hopefully a little warmth. Victoria Day celebrates the birth of Queen Victoria, under whose reign in the 1800’s Canada took some of it’s most important steps on the road to become a nation. Her birthday was on May 24, but in Canada Victoria Day is actually on the last Monday before May 25. Confused? It’s the second-to-last Monday in May, and it’s also the unofficial start of Canada’s summer season. If you’re lucky enough to own a cottage on a lake or near a lake, the Victoria Day weekend is when Canadians open up their cottage and see what repairs are needed after the long winter. Some are even brave enough to take a swim, although be warned that late May in Canada is usually too early to start swimming in a lake. Sometime in June the water is normally warm enough to enjoy.

This is also around the time that the Stanley Cup finals are in their final phase (the playoffs in hockey last for weeks and involve best-of-series like in baseball) and once the final game is over and the winners hoist the cup and skate around the ice, then summer is truly underway.

Summer means festivals in Canada, and Toronto’s Caribana Festival, (officially it is now called the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival), which starts in late July and finishes on the long weekend in early August, is world renowned as one of the major Caribbean festivals around the globe. It started in 1967 as a cultural gift from fellow Commonwealth member nations of the Caribbean on Canada’s centennial celebration. It now attracts over a million visitors to Toronto and involves a wide variety of activities, including a final parade and a gala event.

Summer in Canada ends on Labour Day, celebrated on the first Monday of September. This is usually when Canadians make a last visit to their cottage if they are lucky enough to own one, or maybe plan one last trip camping or hiking in the bush (that means the woods or forest in Canadian slang) perhaps in a National or provincial park. It also means getting your kids ready for the start of the new school year or saying goodbye to them as they head to university or college.

Thanksgiving, a celebration that combines harvest festivals of North American First Nations like the Iroquois with European religious festivals, is celebrated on the second Monday of October in Canada, well before they do in the U.S. which celebrates Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November. By mid October most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, so if you wish to see spectacular fall colours, make sure you go for a drive in the country before Thanksgiving weekend, in late September for example.

October also means the start of the NHL, the professional ice hockey league. But it also means that the Canadian Football League (similar to American football but with a few differences in the number of players on the field and the rules) is heading towards it’s playoffs. The Grey Cup, which is the CFL’s championship game, is held in November and is one of the oldest continuing sports championships in North America.

So, we’re now in November. The trees are bare, and fall is moving towards winter with fairly cold nights. You’ve had your heaters on in your apartment on Dovercourt since late September and you don’t head outside without at least a light coat with maybe a sweater on underneath. Christmas lights are everywhere, even if the holiday season is over a month away, and in early December Toronto will usually see it’s first snowfall.

The public skating rink in Christie Pits park will open any day now. Make sure to get your skates sharpened and then dress warmly and head to the rink. Tie the thick laces of your skates together so you can sling them over your shoulder. No, you don’t put on your skates and try to walk down the sidewalk. You bring them with you and change at the rink and then stumble out onto the ice and start learning how to skate on a cold late November evening with the bright lights overhead illuminating the ice of the outdoor rink. Welcome to Canada!

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