The majority of Canada goes through some of the longest winter seasons in the world. If you read my post on what winter is like in Toronto, you may have gotten turned off the idea of living through that type of weather, and perhaps disregarded living in Canada (at least, somewhere other than British Columbia) altogether.
But if you can get through the winter, a lot of people think the wait is worth it, because spring and summer in Toronto are pretty incredible.
And even though half of the Canadian spring behaves like it’s still winter, there is a definite change in the air, literally and figuratively, as both the climate and its people shed the proverbial winter coat and welcome the long-awaited and well-deserved warmer weather.
Here are some things I noticed and love about spring that I really took for granted living in Australia.
The city comes alive
Toronto has a pretty big population (about 4.5 million) but it can sometimes feel like a lot smaller number because the cold season keeps most people indoors.
But on the first nice day in spring that falls on a weekend, all the outdoor spaces in the city that had been mostly abandoned all winter are suddenly bursting with hundreds of people enjoying the sunshine.
Even though the temperature on such days is usually between 12 and 16 degrees celsius, which might sound hilarious to an Aussie or anyone who lives in a warmer climate, these days feel incredibly warm and perfect compared to the seemingly endless days of temperatures below zero that precede them.
Along with people actually being able to enjoy the outdoors, some things you didn’t even notice had disappeared suddenly reappear – like kids riding bikes, people driving with their car windows open and opening windows and screen doors in their homes, people doing physical activity in parks (like outdoor yoga), birds (and you start hearing them chirp again)!
You also hear lawnmowers, weed whackers (that’s what Canadians call whipper-snippers!), and unfortunately, construction starts up again. And because you’re able to open your windows after months of having them mostly (if not always) closed, a lot of familiar outdoor city sounds come back on your radar.
They say April showers bring May flowers! (Although some years it rains through a lot of May as well). But all the rain has a wonderful side effect. Grass goes from being a dull dead brown to bright luscious green.
Here are some cool before and after shots
Plants come back to life and trees get their leaves back.
It’s something you really appreciate after staring at nothing but tree skeletons and dull, gray everything for so many months. And each day it changes just a little bit. You’ll walk down the same street every day for 2 months and it will look different every day.
The photos with snow might look like they’re in black and white but they’re not. That’s just how everything looks in the winter.
Flowers bloom, and Toronto, the city within a park, becomes a spectacular show of colour
And you get that one week where the cherry trees blossom
No more ice
You can resume jogging! And running for the bus without falling over! And you can leave things outside and not worry they’re going to freeze! And you don’t have to salt, or shovel, or worry about ice causing issues from now until the end of the year! And your phone battery lasts longer because it’s not being drained by the cold.
When it comes time to put away the hats and mittens, suddenly, colour comes back into people’s wardrobes. In winter, the city is a sea of people dressed in black, grey and other dark colours. From what I’ve observed, this is because:
- Winter coats get dirty, so if they’re colourful or light-coloured, they just get ugly and stained – and are difficult to launder.
- Winter clothes aren’t cheap and they take up a lot of space, so it’s easier to buy plain colours that match with everything. Most people have only one good winter coat that they wear all year and that goes with everything – hence the plain colours.
- When you shop for clothes in winter, the colour selection is so limited! Black, grey, dark blue, dark green, dark red, dark purple – that’s about it!
- Even make-up and nail polish is seasonal. People choose nail colours according to the season. I’m sure people do this worldwide but it caught my attention more here than it ever had before. I found myself doing it too. It felt weird to put on bright pink polish in January, or deep purple in July.
Spring cleaning is an actual thing
Because winter is so long and cold, with things mostly covered in ice and snow, you can’t do things like outdoor house maintenance for months. But once spring is in full force, you can clean your windows and screens, start fixing up the yard, wash all the soot, grit and salt off everything. Check out these grimey driveways before the spring rain (and some landscape gardeners) cleaned them.
You can also get back into that forgotten back shed and maybe resurrect your bicycle. It’s also when outdoor swimming pools start to come out of hibernation and garden hoses can start being used again.
People are happier
And nicer. And friendlier. It’s not that they weren’t before, it’s just that now the seasonal affective disorder has ebbed, and the temperatures are decent enough so that you can stand around without being uncomfortable. No more power walking with your head down and tucked under your hood to get out of the cold.
I find that I am much crankier in the cold weather because it’s kind of painful to be outside, so I get frustrated if anyone gets in my way and delays me from getting to shelter.
When the wind is blowing -22 at you, the only thing on your mind is reaching that doorway and getting the heck inside. In spring, people are out and about and enjoying the weather, and their demeanour and disposition reflects that.
The days get nice and long.
Finally, after all that doom and gloom winter darkness, a reward! Midway through spring, the sun rises around 6am and sets around 8:30pm. According to timeanddate.com, the latest the sun sets in Toronto in summer is around 9pm. In Sydney’s summer, it’s just after 8pm.
May is the time for seasonal things to get going.
Seasonal trailer parks open, camp grounds open, and general outdoor activities are put back in motion. Canada’s Wonderland reopens!
Patio season begins
Welcome back al fresco dining. Now that the snow has melted off the outdoor tables, restaurants, cafes and bars can re-open their outdoor seating area for patrons to enjoy.
And so does cottage season
Going to “the cottage” or “the cotty” is a great Canadian pastime. A cottage is basically a holiday house to spend all the weekends of late spring, summer and early fall at. There is a huge range of options at different price-points, so most people who live in Ontario at least know someone with access to one of these, if not have one in their family, and inevitably you will get to spend at least one weekend of your time here “going to someone’s cottage”. If you don’t, you can rent one! But they tend to get booked through the winter so by the time the season starts it can be hard to find availability.
From what I’ve seen, they range in appearance and size from multi-room mansions right by a lake, with a private deck, to an actual log cabin in the woods (they can also be waterfront, or on hill with private stairs leading down to a body of water with a private deck, or close enough to some water). People also have their own trailers in trailer parks by water, each with their own decks. I’m sure there are many other variations I haven’t mentioned here, but you get the picture.
People sometimes go to their cottages in winter (some even live there year round) but from what I understand, most cottages, based on where they’re located and the roads they are accessed from, aren’t maintained in winter and so aren’t accessible while there’s snow on the ground, and when it melts, there are floods. On top of that, freezing pipes, insulation, heating, and all that jazz make most of them a seasonal thing. So, I guess that’s why May is the time they open again.
Baseball season begins and hockey season ends
My knowledge of sports is very limited, but these tie in with the season. Toronto has one of only 6 major league baseball stadiums with a retractable roof, the Rogers Centre (previously named the Skydome) which means that the season can commence even though the outdoor weather is unfavourable (for both players and spectators).
But this blog wouldn’t be complete without some of my famous “not so good” points, so here are some of the ones in spring
(This time I left them to the end. Maybe some of you didn’t read this far… hehe )
The enjoyable part of spring is very, very short.
It’s a very small window between the icy, raining, muddy, and/or flooding time and the muggy, sweaty, “get me out of this city” hot time. Ever seen this pie chart meme about seasons in the north?
It’s funny because it’s true.
When I first arrived in Canada, on March 22nd, 2012, my Canadian friends were going on and on about how it was 25 degrees celsius and they couldn’t believe it! I had no idea what they were talking about. I had just come off the back of an Australian summer and 25 degrees is the beginning of autumn!
Seven winters later, I totally understand why they were so excited about it.
In April of 2012 I witnessed three more light snowfalls and several days of single digit temps before it finally got warm at the end of May.
That 25 degrees day was that infamous one day in March where it’s really warm and you do get optimistic and think it’s going to stay warm, but sure enough you are hit with a few more weeks of wild swings between winter coat/gloves/hat days and rain jacket days, until around mid-May when you can safely put away your winter gear knowing for sure you won’t see it again until late fall.
(That meme circles the internet regularly. It’s all over Pinterest, Imgur, etc but I can’t find the original creator).
Some years it’s still this cold in mid-may. If you are newer to the country, you will be amazed when you see a Canadian emerge from a building on an 11 degree day and hear them exclaim “It’s so hot out!” After a few years of living here, you’ll start thinking 11 degrees is hot, too.
A swarm of them. The closer to the lake (Lake Ontario, or any other smaller lake in cottage country) the worse they get. When you’re outside, they fly into your mouth, your eyeballs, everywhere. I’ve had one fly into my eyeball while biking a few times. Sunglasses help.
In your home they’re attracted to light. Your porch lights will get swarmed, and if you don’t have screens, they fly into your house and swarm white lights too. It’s easy to get them to go away – just turn the lights off. The gnat season is only about a month until it gets too hot for them. Then you can look forward to mosquitoes (because you’re by a giant freshwater lake, of course!)
It’s often said that Toronto has two seasons: winter and construction. I guess this is true of any big city in Canada. Obviously in winter it is not possible to do roadwork, renovations, erect building and so on. But remember the winter weather lasts for more than six months, which leaves only around five months for the city to repair all the road damage winter caused, for people to renovate the 100+ year old building they just bought and for developers to build their 23rd condo tower. So just when you’re getting excited to go outside and enjoy the warm weather, be prepared to take it with a side of jack-hammering.
The damn wasps
These annoy me more than anything. Europeans wasps are an invasive species native to Europe Asia and Africa, but have invaded North America and other parts of the world where they do nothing but cause problems. They hang around all summer, and they behave like flies, but will hurt you a lot if they sting. When I say they behave like flies, I mean they buzz around your face, they go on your food, they swim in your drinks! They are attracted to sugar, so don’t be surprised if while enjoying that summer bevvy outside you suddenly have two or three of these little bastards climbing into it. It’s the one thing I truly hate about living here. They’re like the bluebottles of land. Ugh.
Apparently they are becoming more present in Australia but I never encountered one living on the coast of Sydney. While bees, which we actually need, are in decline, these little bastards that do nothing but terrorize people and destroy crops are multiplying like crazy and we all wish they would disappear and bees would multiply.
But these little annoyances are greatly overshadowed by the realisation that winter is over and summer is on the way!
Spring in Canada, albeit short and unpredictable, is a wonderful time of year.
It lives up to its reputation for being a season of hope and new life, because things really do come back to life here, and it is something to look forward to when the season of winter seems like it will never end.
Bring on summer!