A guide to your first winter in Canada
By Emma Siegel
Posted on February 22, 2021
When the leaves have fallen off the trees, the birds have flown south, and you wake up every morning with a glittery frost on your lawn, you know one thing for certain: winter is just around the corner. While Canada is known for its freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls, winter is also a big part of Canadian identity. As long as you’re prepared and ready, the coldest season of the year can be a lot of fun; and The Newcomer has created just the guide to help you along the way.
Outerwear for everywhere
Before you can go out and enjoy the first snowfall of the year, you’ll need to be dressed for the occasion.
Jackets are considered to be the most essential piece of clothing you’ll wear over the winter, so it’s important to pick a good one. Remember, this will be something you’ll likely be wearing for six to nine months out of the year.
There are a few considerations when looking for a jacket. First, is it water-resistant? A woolly coat may be warm and fashionable, but it won’t do you much good in a snowstorm—and there are a lot of those across Canada.
Next, you want to make sure it’s warm enough. Temperatures range from -15 °C all the way down to -40 °C, depending on where you are in the country. You’ll want an “insulated jacket,” which is a type of coat that will keep you warm in very cold conditions by trapping in your body heat.
There’s no feeling worse than walking through the snow in a pair of boots that clearly weren’t made for the weather. You’ll be left with cold feet, wet socks, and a bad mood. A jacket may be the most important piece of clothing, but winter boots are a close second.
Like with a good jacket, you’ll want water-resistant boots to keep the snow and slush from seeping in. The bottom of the boots need to have good soles, or treads; otherwise, you’ll be slipping and sliding on the snow and ice. If the soles are made of rubber or have grooves throughout (little indents usually in the shape of squiggles, circles, or hexagons), those boots are good for winter.
Finally, winter boots follow a temperature rating scale with five sections: 5 °C to -10 °C, 0 °C to -20 °C, -10 °C to -25 °C, -20 °C to -40 °C, and -25 °C and beyond. Choosing the boots you’ll need will depend on where you will be. If you’re living in Toronto, for example, -10 °C to -25 °C is the best option. But if you’re in Vancouver, boots ranging in the 5 °C to -10 °C category would suit you better. If you’re living in Vancouver and you are wearing boots made for -25 °C weather, your feet will start to sweat in the boots. This will leave you with damp, cold feet, so the ratings are important to follow.
Hats and gloves
No one likes cold ears and frozen fingers, and this is where hats and gloves make their entrance. When looking for a hat, the criteria is pretty simple: something big enough to cover your ears and forehead that feels thick and warm. And here’s a tip: many people in Canada call a winter hat a toque (pronounced TOO-CK).
As for gloves, it depends on what you’re going to be doing. If you don’t plan to be outside for long, like going grocery shopping or for a quick walk, a pair of wool, fur lined, or cotton gloves will suit you just fine. If you’re going to be outside for a while, like shovelling snow, a pair of water-resistant, insulated gloves are your best option.
Let the fun begin
A little cold weather shouldn’t stop you from going outside and having a good time. In fact, some of the best activities can only be done in cold, snowy conditions.
Sledding, more commonly called tobogganing, is a favourite winter pastime for many kids. All you need for this is a snowy hill and a sled (also called a toboggan). The activity is simple: sit down on the toboggan at the top of the hill and inch forward until gravity does its job and you find yourself speeding down the hill. While constantly climbing up the hill can become tiring in all your winter layers, it’s always worth it for the thrill of racing back down again. You’ll need a pair of snow pants for this (a pair of water-resistant, insulated pants), or your pants and legs will be soaked by the end of the first trip down the hill.
No matter where you are in Canada, there will always be a skating rink close by. Whether it is a frozen lake (when skating on frozen water, check and listen to all safety measures first) or a man-made rink at a local community center, skating is a great activity for people of all ages. Some community centers will rent skates for you to use, or you can buy a pair at a nearby sporting store. Skating can be a tricky skill to learn at first, as you’re balancing on slippery ice with thin bladed boots, but there are plenty of beginner classes to help you along the way. Chances are, you’re going to fall a lot in the beginning, so make sure you’re wearing a helmet!
Stocking up on supplies
You’re all set with your winter clothes and outdoor activities. Now all you need are a few winter necessities and you’re ready to take on the season!
Shovels and ice melt
When the snow and ice storms hit, your walkway, driveway, and sidewalk will be covered in either fluffy snow or slippery ice. If snow is your problem, it’s time to break out your shovel and scoop the snow onto your lawn. If ice is your problem, you’ll need to spread ice melt—a gravelly-like material that you can buy in the hardware or car section of most retail stores that sell seasonable goods. The ice melt does exactly what it sounds like: melt the ice and make the pavement less slippery. If the weather is calling for an ice storm, or the melting snow is expected to freeze overnight, you can put down ice melt beforehand and be prepared for the icy conditions the next morning. While homeowners are tasked with shovelling and spreading ice melt outside their homes, apartment renters and condo owners can leave this job to their building maintenance staff to do. So instead of being outside on a cold morning to clear snow off of your driveway, you can get an extra ten minutes of sleep.
Winter tires and car brushes
Regular car tires, like shoes, slip and slide in snowy conditions. Snow tires are made out of a softer rubber that works well in cold weather and have deeper treads that are designed for a better grip on snow and ice. You’ll also need to keep a car brush in your car at all times. Usually, one of its sides is for brushing off snow and the other side is for scraping ice. This is an essential item for your car during the winter months. Quick tip—if you leave your car outside during a snow or ice storm, keep the wipers raised so you won’t have to dig them out later.