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Is It a Smart Move to Immigrate to Canada When You Hate Winter?

Canada mug, Ottawa, December 2020
Canada mug, Ottawa, December 2020

Close your eyes and picture Canada. What do you see? Probably a winter wonderland with snow-shrouded forests, icy roads, dog sleds, polar bears, penguins…

Wait, wrong hemisphere. We don’t have penguins. Also, you’re more likely to see a Nunavut bear-shaped licence place than an actual polar bear in your backyard.

For the rest, you’re not far off. Canada is world-famous for its long, harsh winters. Canada epitomizes winter wonderland, which is why many prospective immigrants spend months preparing for their first snowfall while others simply question their immigration project—“I don’t like winter, should I even consider moving to Canada?”

I’ve been living in Ontario for 17 years and I hate winter. But hey, I’m still here. There’s a thing or two you should know about this long season…

It doesn’t really matter where you’re from

Canada is a very multicultural country with newcomers from all over the world. Surprisingly, I find there’s no hard rule for winter adaptability—immigrants from tropical countries can end up embracing Canadian winter and immigrants from colder places can be complaining about it every single year.

Granted, Russians, Scandinavians, Northern Chinese, Americans just across the border and other northern folks start with a leg up. They’ve seen snow before, they’ve experienced below-zero temperatures. Yet, I know plenty of Indians, Somalis, Italians or Mexicans who look like they’ve been wearing snow boots their entire life.

Let’s not forget a sizeable proportion of born-and-raised Canadians dread winter. Few admit it because there are bragging rights to consider (“of course, I’m wearing shorts, it’s only -10⁰C!”) and because it’s quite pointless to complain about winter when it’s a fact of life, but still.

Actual temperature doesn’t matter that much either

People respond to cold differently. I’m one of these people who feel cold before it’s actually understandable to be cold, but, on the other hand, I barely sweat when it’s 40⁰C. I’m not engineered for cold temperatures, apparently.

But strangely enough, I can perfectly take a two-hour-long walk when it’s 0⁰C, -10⁰C, -15⁰C even. Do I enjoy it as much as when it’s 35⁰C? Hell no. But as long as I’m active and wearing my thickest jacket, a scarf, gloves and a hat, I’m fine. Well, not shivering.

And trust me, you won’t be shivering 24/7 in Canada. Indoor places are reliably comfortably warm.

However, you will be exposed to cold whether you want it or not. This is one of the most annoying part of winter for me—getting out of the bed and feeling cold while getting dressed, then feeling cold again before the car warms up and when you’re finally comfortable, parking and going out in the cold again before stepping indoors and eventually leaving to start the whole freezing in the cold car again, etc.

Oh, and by the way, there’s no much difference between -20⁰C and -40⁰C—we call this range of temperatures “fucking cold,” period. However, windchill can make or break your day.

What’s so difficult about winter, then?

I’d be fine with a month or two of sub-zero temperatures but winters in Canada are long—this is the deal breaker for many of us. The first snowfall, the first winter storm, the first winter is a fascinating experience. However, winter only ends between April and June, depending on where you live. A snowy landscape feel magical around Christmas, but you’re less enthusiastic three months later as the rest of the temperate Northern hemisphere is embracing spring and “winter” is giant piles of snow, road salt and slush.

It takes a certain mental strength to deal with winter because it’s not a race, more like a marathon. It requires many adjustments to your daily routine and maybe adopting a completely different lifestyle for half of the year. Logistics get complicated because unless you’re facing very severe winter conditions, you’re still expected to show up at work. Canada doesn’t freeze and hibernate from November to April—we get through predictable and somewhat coordinated chaos the best we can.

By the way, cold temperatures are the least of your worries—dealing with blizzard and ice rain is Canada on hard mode.

So, who likes winter?

It’s not just the cold, it’s the lifestyle.

You’re probably going to embrace winter if you like staying home, making your living environment cozy, having people over, cooking comfort food, watching movies, going to the mall. Think of it as an informal lockdown—technically, you can still go out but it takes effort and careful planning.

If you’re into winter sports and if you live close to an adventure playground—think Banff, not downtown Toronto—you’re going to love powder days.

On the other hand, if you enjoy outdoor events, markets, water sports, café terraces for people watching, biking or walking to places you may want to adjust your expectations. There’s a reason why many households have two or more cars and there’s a reason why gyms are so popular in Canada—it’s about comfort because not everyone is ready to face cold-weather challenges and jog in the snow every day.

Your occupation matters as well. White collar workers only have to worry about their commute but many tradespeople are exposed to unusually harsh conditions—think roofers, electricians, construction workers, etc. Delivery, bus and truck drivers will have their work impacted too. Letter carriers in Canada and Australia do the same jobs but in very different weather conditions.

Embrace it, fight it or run away from it but plan accordingly—winter is a fact of life in Canada!

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