10 Common Canadian Winter Problems

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Christmas ornament, Ottawa, December 2018

Lately, it’s been painful to make or take calls on-the-go. It has nothing to do with a possibly emotionally charged Holiday Season, it’s just another practical winter problem.

See, I can’t just tap to select my contact. It’s a four-step process: 1) Awkwardly extract smartphone from pocket with gloved hand 2) free a finger to operate touch screen 3) hope finger is warm enough to navigate between various apps, shortcuts, menus, notes, promos at instacasino, etc. 4) let it ring but keep finger ungloved in case no one is home.


“How are you?”

“Good, hold on a second, I need to put my glove back on… can you hear me okay?”

Thank technology for Bluetooth headsets. Maybe I look like one of these crazy people talking to themselves but at least I can keep my hands where they belong when it’s minus-way-too-cold—in my pockets.

Every year, for four to six months, life in Canada is full of big and small winter struggles. Here are ten situations you’re probably familiar with if you’ve ever considered using the car trunk as a freezer or if you store ice cream on the front porch.

Clumsy gloved hands or frozen numb fingers

I pause every time I need to reach for my keys or my bus pass—should I take off my glove for efficiency’s sake but deal with numb fingers and chapped hands or should I fumbled around in my bag or pockets without taking off my gloves and possibly drop stuff?

Loads and loads of laundry

In summer, I usually wash Mark’s clothes with mine and we average two loads a week. In winter, it doesn’t take much for the washer to be full—snowsuit, sweaters, jeans, etc. are heavy when soaked, so I do more loads more often and the dryer is no longer an optional convenience.

Mandatory winter expenses

Winter is an expensive season. Utility bills are higher (hydro, water… see point above), grocery bills rise as well with imported fresh fruits and vegetables and winter gear (e.g. winter tires, winter coat, snow boots, etc.) is pricey. Even winter activities cost more—you’ll spend more in a ski resort than on a typical Canadian long weekend by the lakeside, canoeing or swimming. Snowball fights are free, I’ll give you that.

Tech malfunctions

Most products come with a manufacturer warning specifying the ambient operating temperature range. Phones, tablets and other electronics weren’t designed to withstand extreme winter weather. Good luck trying to launch the transit app when you’ve been standing at the bus stop for ten minutes and it’s—20⁰C. Your phone may die suddenly even though it should have some juice left because cold weather also drains batteries. Forget about having a smoke—my basic Bic lighter stops working around—10⁰C.

The great missing glove mystery

Socks wearers from all over the world curse their sock-eating washing machine or dryer. In Canada, we add a local twist to this great unsolved mystery—we look for orphaned gloves. They usually don’t disappear into the black hole in the laundry room, they go missing outside. Many are found on the sidewalk and there’s always a kind soul to pick up the single glove and put it on the nearest mailbox or tree branch (they can stay there for months because absolutely no one tries to look for a missing glove).

Aches and pains

Winter is hard on the body. Chapped hands and feet, sore lips, stiff muscles and maybe the occasional bruise or sprain from a slip-and-fall… the season is hard on everyone.

Salt stains

In most countries, salt is a condiment kept by the stove and used to season food. In Canada, road salt is used to melt snow and ice and keep water from freezing. On one hand, it’s a winter safety product—you don’t want to test your balance on an icy sidewalk (see point above)—but it damages cars, shoes, pants and the asphalt. I swear, I spend most of winter cleaning salt stains.

Car maintenance

The most basic Canadian car “maintenance” is a DIY task—cleaning snow and ice off your windshield. You may also have to plug your car into a block heater to warm the engine coolant, the engine block and the oil. Oh, and you could be one of the thousands of drivers who loses a hubcap after hitting a pothole—these wheel covers can be found on the side of every major road throughout the winter.

Daily weather checks

In summer, except for rare extreme weather events (like last September’s tornado) and unique Ottawa downpours I can clearly see coming, I don’t need to monitor the weather forecast. But in winter, the temperature is the first number I read in the morning—trust me, you want to know if it’s “only”—5⁰C like the day before or if it dropped to—20⁰C overnight.

Cabin fever and boredom

There aren’t many places to go to when it’s too cold to be outside. Shopping malls are a popular option in Ottawa, especially in December, but they lose their appeal by January when consumers are starting to regret spending so much during the holidays. A common misconception is that there are “underground cities” in all major Canadian cities. Montreal does have the extensive “RÉSO,” the largest underground network in the world, and Toronto has the PATH system—elsewhere, we’re just talking about series of interconnected office towers, hotels, shopping centres, and public transit access and it’s often very limited and useless outside regular office hours. The most extensive underground networks are actually on university campuses, which I guess can be an option if you’re desperate to take a walk without experiencing the windchill factor.

How about you? What’s your winter problem?



About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. You need smartphone gloves! They look like normal gloves, but the fingertips are conductive so you can use your phone without taking then off. Tons on Amazon.

    • I bought a pair when they first came out a few years ago, but I found the fabric was way too thin when temperature drops below -10C :-/ That’s another Canadian problem, I need lined gloves when it’s that cold. Maybe I should look again, they may have gotten better now… Thank you for the tip!

  2. Martin Penwald on

    Mainly, being careful of batteries charge to be able to start the next morning. And if it is really cold, like under -25°, keeping the engine warm for the night to avoid it freezes and thus doesn’t start in the morning. It’s rarely a problem, but a standard 4-batteries bank is not ideal for that.

      • Martin Penwald on

        Difference are essentially on optional equipment, like a electrical plug for an engine heater or a fuel powered engine heater, or a bunk heater for cold countries like Canada, and bigger radiators and snorkel-like air intakes for warm countries like Australia.
        After that, maintenance is different : you use different grades of engine oil depending of outside conditions (in winter, you can put fluider oil than in summer), add alcohol based fluid in the air lines to prevent brake freezing and do regular undercarriage wash to remove salt and all the shit they put on the road to limit corrosion.

        • Make sense! I was asking because Feng’s old car, bought in Manitoba, came with a plug for these harsh winters… something I haven’t seen on any car in Ottawa!

          • Martin Penwald on

            In fact, I don’t have any plug on my car, and I don’t have any trouble starting it in winter. Small gasoline engine aren’t very difficult to start even in winter. The main problem is battery losing charge, but replacing it once every two year just before winter should prevent any starting trouble.

  3. J’aime beaucoup l’hiver globalement. Mon principal pb est que mes mains crevassent dès les premiers froids. Je porte des gants de ski mais je ne peux rien attraper avec et dois donc les enlever pour tout : attacher les ceintures des sieges auto, chercher les clefs, sortir un mouchoir, etc… Et l’autre truc dont j’ai une sainte horreur, c’est de m’asseoir dans ma voiture le soir, stationnée la journée sur le parking de la gare et qu’elle soit tellement mais tellement gelée.

    • Tout pareil pour les mains. J’ai opté pour cette crème, http://www.okeeffescompany.com/working-hands, et elle me fait beaucoup de bien. Je te la conseille, elle coûte environ 8$ dans les supermarchés 🙂

      Je déteste me glisser dans des draps froids le soir. Pourtant, il fait bon à la maison… mais le lit est froid!

      Qu’est-ce que tu aimes dans l’hiver?

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