3 Winter Skills Every Canadian Should Master

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Sign on the tree says "Keep off the grass!" - Ottawa, December 2014

Sign on the tree says “Keep off the grass!” – Ottawa, December 2014

I was walking home the other day when I realized I hadn’t had the chance to eat the banana I had put in my bag as a snack. It was cold and windy, so I didn’t want to stop and take off my gloves. I somehow managed to peel it (and eat it) with my clumsy gloved hands, and it made me laugh. “This should be in the ‘Canadian citizenship’ test,” I thought. “After all, doing things with your gloves on is a useful winter skill!”

And because I wasn’t quite home yet, I started thinking about other winter skills you should master. Funny how blog article ideas come about, isn’t it?

So here are three winter skills every Canadian should master, inspired by a banana, gloves and a walk in the cold.

Dressing for the weather

Some days, if you were to observe people downtown Ottawa around lunchtime from a spaceship, you’d think the weather conditions were balmy. The truth is, most of the women you’ll see wearing skirts and short sleeves are working in an office building and just popped out for a three-minute cigarette break or to grab a to-go lunch at the corner store. If you actually plan to spend time outside, don’t be an idiot—dress for the weather. This doesn’t mean you have to invest in a Canada Goose coat or dress like if you were living in Nunavut, but use common sense. Layering is the key to retain body heat, as well as covering exposed skin. Little by little, you’ll learn how your body respond to cold as well. For example, my legs don’t get too cold because I’m usually active, but my neck does and I always wear thick scarves.

Tips from the cold

  • Make sure gloves, mitts and hats have a lining. Knitted hats are cute but pretty useless if they don’t have a lining or are loosely knitted.
  • Expensive doesn’t always mean warm. Plenty of brands are more fashionable than practical.
  • Most Canadian women keep a spare pair of shoes at the office and switch from winter boots to cuter style when they arrive in the morning.
  • “Hat hair” sucks, I know. Earmuffs is a good way around this awful issue.

Doing things with gloves/mitts on

Gloves or mitts aren’t optional fashion accessories in Canada. When it’s cold and windy, your hands will get numb and you may get frostbites quickly. Even though you will feel clumsy at first, you will soon learn how to do things with your gloves on: finding your keys in your bag, buckling up your seatbelt, scanning your bus pass (or, at an expert level, handing out the exact change) or adjusting your scarf.

Tips from the cold

  • Wash your gloves/mitts almost as often as you (should) wash your hands, they get super gross as you are touching everything.
  • You know what feels good? Putting a thick layer of cream on your hands in the morning, then putting your gloves and leaving them on during your commute. Smooth silky hands in no time.
  • Every year, the Hudson’s Bay releases a new edition of the iconic Red Mittens. They are cute and cheap collectible, although I don’t find them practical.
  • Some gloves are design to let you use touchscreen devices. It actually works pretty well (unless it’s way too cold) but you need to be an expert with touchscreens as you will lose dexterity with the gloves on.

Shoveling or clearing snow

Unless you live in an apartment building and only park indoors, chances are you will have to shovel or clear snow at one point or another. Invest in a good shovel and brush (for your car). Some people enjoy the strenuous exercise and are looking forward to it (no, really), others are not as experienced or fit. Do stretch and take it easy, and I’m serious here—snow is freaking heavy. Don’t wreck your back or get a heart attack. The key points? Pushing snow rather than lifting it and shoveling small layers at a time.

Tips from the cold

  • You may want to sign up with a snow removal company. Contracts typically run from November to late Spring (yes, this is Canada, we have snowstorms in April) and contractors work on driveways, so clearing the footpath to your house is still your job (but a much more manageable one). Do check reviews and ratings beforehand, these small businesses can be very unreliable. Make sure the contract spells out everything, including the number of centimetres of snow it must fall before they come around.
  • Clearing the edge of the driveway, where it meets the road/street, is the toughest part because the city plows push more snow your way, barricading you in. Expect heavy chunk of ice and snow for this part (and expect the snowplow to come back right after you’re done…).

Comrades from the cold… any other tips?


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. I’ll be moving to Canada in a few months (from Eu) and have been wondering if I’ll be able to survive brutal Canadian winters since I now live in a reasonably mild climate and am not a fan of low temperatures:) Thanks for these fantastic tips.

    • Martin Penwald on

      Oh ? Tiens, c’est reviendu.

      There is another way to fight the cold and the snow in Canada : living in the Vancouver area, where there is an mild oceanic climate.

      • Oui, j’avais un peu merdé à publier deux articles le même jour, alors j’ai fait ni vu ni connu, mais apparemment vu quand même 😆

  2. My main thing is lining in gloves – or two pairs of gloves. There is not much worse than painful fingers in this weather! After two years of living here, I have finally got my shit together!

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