Weather

When spring finally comes to Canada

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.

Image of children playing at High Park
Kids enjoying the playground in High Park, Toronto, in April.

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.

Colours reappear

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

Cherry trees in High Park

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.

Spring fashion

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:

  1. Winter coats get dirty, so if they’re colourful or light-coloured, they just get ugly and stained – and are difficult to launder.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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!

The entrance to Canada’s Wonderland.

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).

A screenshot of the weather on May 13th, 2019

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.

Gnats

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!)

Construction

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.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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!

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Advice, Weather

How to Dress for a Canadian Winter

Dressing for Canadian winter
Photo by Victor Duarte on Pexels.com

Well if you read my post about what winter is really like in Canada, you’ll have figured out that you need a whole lot of winter gear to survive it. So here is the ultimate guide to everything you need to dress properly for a winter in Canada!

When you think subzero temperatures, I’m sure your instinct is to go for the biggest, wooliest, puffiest winter clothes you can think of to shield you from the elements. But this just isn’t practical in a crowded city like Toronto. Sure, you need proper winter gear, but you can ditch the huge puffer jacket, the two-metre-long woollen scarf and massive knee high snow boots.

Instead, opt for layers of high quality materials. Wool, silk and polypropylene are your  friend.  Cotton outerwear is not advised: save it for summer. Jeans are also the best way to freeze, unless you wear leggings or thermals underneath them.

Unless you live on the west coast, you won’t see temperatures above 20 degrees for about seven months and your wardrobe needs to reflect this.

First you will need a good jacket

What is “good”? For me, it has to be down-filled, thin and lightweight.

I know, there are ethical concerns about animal cruelty here. But there are companies that source down and feathers humanely. And I tried polyester-filled jackets. They just didn’t cut it. The wind ripped right through them, while also making me overheat and sweat. Very uncomfortable. So now I won’t buy a jacket unless it is 100% down filled.

The weight of the jacket is important, because there is nothing more exhausting and uncomfortable than lugging a heavy jacket as well your hat, scarf and gloves around a mall. A thin jacket is ideal because it’s easier to carry and store when you’re not using it.

It also needs a good hood.

I find those jackets with the huge, fur-lined hoods look good, but are an absolute pain in the ass.

First, you don’t need all that bulk. It’s the most annoying thing when you step inside and have to take off your coat and carry it. It’s like carrying an unrolled sleeping bag around.

Second, there are times when you don’t want your hood up. And the minute you get close to someone or something, your hood is bumping into them.

Third, those fur linings are useless. All the do is tickle and annoy your face, and allow snow and ice to stick to them. I find them pointless and as soon as a buy a coat I take them off, as they’re usually detachable. This winter I finally discovered the “pack-able” down jacket and it’s the best thing I ever bought. It’s warm, waterproof, blocks wind and folds/rolls into a tiny thing that you can shove into your bag. You don’t boil when you step inside so you can usually keep it on for your entire trip on transit or while you’re indoors for brief periods.

Fourth (yes I have four things to say about hoods!) it is very annoying when your hood covers your eyes but has gaps on the sides. Not only can you not see, but the freezing cold wind will get in and burn your face. So make sure your hood can cinch closed to stop wind from getting through, that you still have room underneath it for a hat and that it hugs your face instead of flopping down over your head and covering your eyes.

Second, you will need good winter boots

I’m not talking ski boots here. You can wear them if you wish, and people do, but I don’t think you need them.

The number one concern is their sole. Do they have good grip?

My first winter, I bought $200 knee high fleece lined waterproof Pajar boots. They were warm – too warm – and slippery. It took me a few winters to learn that in Toronto, you don’t need snow boots because you won’t generally be wading through knee high snow. This isn’t Thunder Bay.

Instead, you’ll be stepping and sliding around on slushy, half melted, dirty snow that has been mixed with salt and grit and soot.

What you need are boots that are waterproof, with good thick wool socks, that will keep your feet dry, stop you from slipping and won’t make you overheat when you go inside.

In situations where you will be mostly inside, such as working in an office, it’s best to keep a pair of indoor shoes that you can change into.

You won’t be able to work inside with boots on all day. It gets too warm. Plus it’s not professional attire. Most indoor places have an area for outdoor shoes, where you can take off your shoes and let the snow and salt drip off them while you wear your clean indoor shoes inside (and keep the floor clean and dry).

I’m obsessed with Timberland teddy fleece boots and I buy a new pair every year. This is not a sponsored post, but I find them very comfortable for walking long distances, they’re warm enough without being too hot when you’re inside, and they have decent grip. I haven’t tried every single boot that’s out there, but I’m a “if you’re on to a good thing, stick to it” type of person. The only downside is that they’re lace-up boots, which means they take time to get on and off – annoying since you’re expected to remove your shoes half the places you go. There are plenty of other winter boots that are zippered or slip on.

It’s a good idea to buy ice grips.

Even the best-soled shoes won’t save you from icy sidewalks. Temperatures fluctuate in Toronto winters. Some days are -30, some days are +11 and everything in between. Because of this, snow melts and refreezes, and you get a lot of icy walkways and most shoes have rubber soles which are slippery. You will slip and fall if you step on ice, which you often can’t see until it’s too late. A lot of people slip on ice in the winter and get wrist injuries and even concussions. Ice grips that you attach to your shoes will help you not to fall.

Socks

If you’re wearing really good socks, then you can survive most of winter in average fall boots. Wool is the best option here, but if you’re allergic, look for non-wool thermal socks (but make sure they fit into your boots if they’re the really thick kind).

Then you need wool, wool and more wool

When I discovered this, I bought wool everything, and that’s all I will wear in winter. Wool socks, wool hats, wool gloves. Everything else was a waste of money and did nothing to keep me warm, and I was miserable.

My sincerest apologies if you are allergic to wool, because that is the one and only thing I found that would keep me warm while regulating the heat so I didn’t end up sweating and then freezing.

And a good scarf

A scarf is useless if it’s not worn correctly. It is not a fashion statement here, it is an necessity. It’s purpose is to keep the space between your coat and your ears covered and warm. It should not be too long or thick. You want to be able to wrap it around your neck then tuck the tails into your coat and zip your coat closed. Infinity scarves are great for this because often the tails of your scarf get caught in your coat zipper.

On the coldest days, the scarf alone will not be enough, nor will zipping your jacket all the way up. You need the double-layer protection.

Long-haired people, watch out for your hair getting caught in your zipper too. OUCH. You’ll want to have your clothes on correctly before stepping outside, because it is no fun if you get out there in the cold and your fumbling with your hair, trying to tuck it under your hat, away from your face, away from your zipper, with the wind whipping everywhere, all with gloves on.

It would be wise to invest in a face mask

Or, you can use your scarf. If you’re wearing it correctly, you should be able to pull it up out of your coat and over your nose. But there will definitely be days where you need to cover all of your skin except your eyes, because it gets that cold. A face mask doubles as a neck warmer, so in theory you can ditch the bulky scarf. I found I always needed both.

Gloves

I found the standard polyester finger gloves okay for the tail end of the season, but when it’s below zero, my fingers hurt when I only wear those. The problem with gloves is that you also need dexterity while wearing them, to do things like unzip your coat, get your keys out, unlock your phone, use your wallet, etc etc. I found the mittens with the flip top finger cover the best. They keep your hands warm but you can free your fingers for a minute when you need to do something.

Ok but what do you actually wear under all that?

Everywhere you go will be heated indoors, to around 20 to 23 degrees. Some people keep their homes a little cooler, and some warmer. So you have to figure out something that will keep you warm while outside but comfortable while inside. I’m usually okay in jeans, a cotton tank top and a wool sweater inside. But be prepared to take your shoes off indoors. If you’re okay walking around barefoot you can do that, but I hate it. I always take slippers with me and change into those. Your legs will be cold if you are only wearing jeans when you are outside, unless your coat is ankle length. I get around this by wearing thigh-high wool socks over my jeans on the coldest days. When I’m inside I can fold them down or take them off. Thermals underneath work too if your jeans are baggy.

If you’re going out to a party or a club, simply wear your outfit of choice under your winter gear, which you will take off and store while inside, either in a designated coat check (sometimes for a fee, or at least a tip), or on a huge pile of everyone else’s coats. You can put your hat and gloves in the pockets and shove your scarf in the hood (or around the coat hanger in coat check).

So there you have it. How to dress for a Canadian winter, from this frozen Australian.

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Weather

What Winter in Canada is Really Like: All the things you have to deal with in winter!

Moss Park, Toronto, Canada – December 2018

Canadians love to talk about the weather. One of the most common questions I get asked is, “What’s the coldest it gets in Australia?” When you live through a few winters here, you understand why.  I think they ask because:

  • they dream of living in a snow-free land or;
  • they know an Australian winter is a walk in the park compared to a Canadian one. 

And it is! I’m from the coast of Sydney, Australia, where winter looks like this picture, and I rarely experienced anything colder than 8 degrees celsius.

But even if you’re from the coldest parts of Australia, I will tell you straight up:

You do not know what winter is until you’ve seen a winter in Canada

What’s the big deal about winter? It’s cold, and it snows, right? Snow is beautiful!

Snow is beautiful. But there’s a lot to living in this climate that you don’t realize until you actually have to do it. I’m sure you understand that it’s very cold, but what does that actually look like?

Let’s talk about time.

Even though winter proper is three months long, the cold seems to go on forever

And I’m only talking about Toronto, which is said to have a mild winter compared to other parts of the country. It gets so cold here, that you will start thinking zero to two degree days are downright balmy compared to -20. Never in my life did I think I would be calling zero degrees warm. But Canada does that to you. 

Here is a rough timeline of the cold season. All temperatures are in Celsius. 

Fall officially begins Sep 21st. By the middle of October, the temperatures are  already in single digits. So it’s only midway through fall and it’s already colder than a “freezing” day in Sydney.

October is the time to bring your hats and gloves out of storage, but you won’t need a winter coat just yet. It’s a beautiful time of year with all the leaves changing colours. The many parks and trees in Toronto put on quite a show.

Halloween is chilly, so don’t think you can strut down the street in a barely-there costume, because you’ll freeze. As such, onesies are a big hit here.  

November is similar, and you might see snow, but it doesn’t usually dump piles just yet. You can still spend time outdoors without a full winter wardrobe.  Trees lose their leaves by the end of November.

Winter officially begins December 21st. It’s usually around -5 to -15 for most of December. You may or may not see a white Christmas. I’ve seen three in seven years. 

January and February are the coldest months with the most snow. For a few weeks it will hit around -25 to -40 with the wind chill. Snow falls at least once a week and there will be a few ice storms. 

By March, everyone is sick of winter, ice and snow and just wants it to all go away. But it doesn’t really until late May. People forget that every year and are always surprised/annoyed by the last few snowfalls that happen in spring. That’s why the city by-law says that indoor heating has to remain on until June. JUNE.

That’s more thansix months of cold weather, with three of those months being extreme. But being cold is just the beginning….

With the cold comes ice and freezing rain

What is freezing rain? It’s when the temperature goes above freezing and then rapidly drops back to freezing, resulting in rain that instantly freezes when it hits a surface. In a matter of hours, roads, buildings, trees, electrical poles, footpaths, cars, benches, railways, streetcar tracks, traffic lights, you name it get coated in a thick layer of ice that remains frozen.

Depending on the severity of the freezing rain, the result can be anything from the roads and pavements being slippery, to trees breaking and falling on power lines, cutting power for days. If you have electric heating and hot water tanks, it’s a miserable time to not have electricity.

Temperature fluctuations result in “freeze and thaw” events. This is when snow melts a little and then freezes as ice. There will be snow on the ground that has layers of ice underneath. As it starts to melt, the ice is exposed and it’s really impossible to walk anywhere that isn’t salted by the city. The further away you live from downtown, the worse it is.

I couldn’t walk around the courtyard in my apartment building for almost 2 months this winter because it was covered in ice.

Freezing temperatures means a risk of pipes bursting.

When this happens, the water goes everywhere and freezes all around the site. I’ve been evacuated from two buildings because of a burst water main. So if you own a home here, you can’t just take it for granted that you can go on vacation and come back to find your property in the same condition. You have to take preventative steps like draining pipes and draining hoses before you leave.

Garbage bins freeze shut!

So do windows, doors, locks, gates, bike chains – basically anything with leverage that’s outside.


Travelling by any means becomes a challenge

Ice-covered walkways are slippery

Walking is difficult because you can’t always see the ice, so you have to walk
slowly and carefully to make sure you don’t end up on your butt or with a fractured wrist. The leading cause of hospitalizations for injuries in Canada is falls.

Sometimes footpaths get buried

But if you don’t walk on them, you have to walk on the busy road beside them. Street corners are the worst, because that’s where the snow gets piled up the highest. It can be hard to use the crosswalks because there’s so much snow in the way. Good luck if you have a stroller, a wheelie bag, etc.

Driving is also a hazard

Most public roads are well-salted and cleared by the city. Driving is worse while the snow is actually falling. Visibility is limited, and the white lane markings (genius to have them the same colour as snow!) are completely invisible while it’s snowing. You basically have to follow the car in front of you and hope they’re keeping in their lane.

Late for work?

You will be after spending 20 mins digging your car out of the snow!

If you don’t have underground parking, you must allow extra time to dig your car out of the snow that accumulated on/around it while it was parked.

(PS. Don’t keep anything in your car that you don’t want to freeze. I watched a poor lady try to thaw out her 5L bottle of laundry detergent after it was in her car for 3 days…)

Get ready to freeze waiting for public transit.

Thank goodness for transit apps. You soon learn to use them to minimize time spent standing outdoors freezing waiting for the next one. Even 5 mins is torture when the wind is blowing -25 degrees at you.

Transit functions fairly well considering, but on bad days, buses do get stuck in snow, and streetcars do malfunction because of ice buildup on the tracks.

Taxis/Ubers/Lyfts are available, but demand is high and they are not immune to getting stuck, so if you do manage to get one, be prepared to shell out coin.

But you bike to work, so you’ll be okay

Nope. Cycling is possible but I, like many others, avoid it at all costs when the temperature is below zero. Even though the city does salt the bike lanes along with the road, you inevitably encounter patches of ice somewhere along your journey. Plus the salt destroys your bike.

It took a near miss and then an actual fall on ice to stop me from biking when it’s freezing. Bikes tend to get abandoned in the winter, except by hardcore cyclists. Not me!

Don’t even get me started on air travel

I’m surprised aircraft get off the ground here at all. Ice on the runway, freezing rain, low visibility, etc etc. The Eastern Seaboard is notorious for its bad weather, so extensive flight delays and cancellations are just expected here.

Salt destroys things

This car was black!

Salting of surfaces is necessary to melt snow and ice so that vehicles can safely drive on the roads and people can walk on the footpaths. The problem is, it eats away at things such as asphalt, metal (look forward to rust on your car, just like living by the ocean), destroyed bike chains and shoes.

By the end of winter, the roads are a torn up mess and have to be repaved often. If not, they’re left a mess and driving, walking and biking on them sucks.

Many things are “seasonal” and put on hold until Spring

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • gardening
  • yard work
  • renovations
  • construction
  • picnicking, outdoor parties, al fresco dining
  • outdoor sports like baseball, golf, tennis, etc
  • camping
  • just being outside in general

Oh, you wanted to enjoy your backyard? Sorry, you can’t. It’s buried in snow

If you celebrate Christmas, it’s more common here to have an indoor Christmas dinner, rather than an outdoor Christmas lunch like we do back in Australia. I suspect this has something to do with not being able to barbecue…

You can kiss having New Year’s Eve parties outdoors goodbye. Unless you like standing around freezing, in which case, New Year’s Eve at Nathan Phillips Square welcomes you.

So get used to that indoor life

Because even if you are brave enough to spend time outside, it will be hard to find other people who want to join you.

As well as the indoor heating

Indoor spaces are heated to about 23 degrees. This is necessary for survival, since you would actually freeze to death if it wasn’t. But there is some adjusting to this.

In buildings where the property controls the heat, it can sometimes be too hot. You can open a window but that just makes the heat blast harder to maintain the pre-set temperature. Because you can’t open the windows, and you spend most of your time indoors, you breathe mostly recycled, stale air.

Indoor heating makes it difficult to gauge what the weather is like outside because you will be comfortable in very little clothing. So you have to wait until you’re just about to leave before you bundle up and put your shoes on, otherwise you will get too hot walking around your indoors in all your winter gear. So allow a bit of extra time for that before going out, because getting ready to leave the house is a task.

You can’t just walk out in your indoor clothes. You have to make sure you’re properly dressed and protected for outside conditions. Your weather app becomes your best friend.

You have to figure out a way to dress for both inside and outside conditions, so you can be warm outside but are able to remove and carry most of what you’re wearing once you get inside. You soon learn that huge bulky coats, scarves and boots are overkill and hard to deal with on a crowded public transit vehicle or in a busy mall. Learn more in my post How To Dress for a Canadian Winter

You have to watch where you place your furniture and belongings in your home, so as not to block heating vents/melt your stuff.

Winter dries everything up

Indoor heating makes the air very dry. For the first few years, when I woke up in the morning, I felt as dry as I do on long haul flights. The air gets static and you get shocks when you touch things. Your hair and skin get more dry than usual, especially if you take long, hot showers. A humidifier helps.

The water that comes out of the faucets is frigid, so when washing your hands , you have to mix hot and cold water so your hands don’t freeze. It becomes a habit, and now when I go home to visit my family, I get lectures for unnecessarily using hot water. But constantly using hot water contributes to dry skin. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise!

Winter clothing is an expense

You need an entire winter wardrobe to get through the winter, and that comes at a price. Since winter clothing is a necessity here, it’s much cheaper than it would be in Australia, but you still get what you pay for. While you don’t need a $1000 Canada Goose jacket, you still need to choose quality gear or you will be miserable when you’re outside if you’re not wearing the right clothes.

Winter affects your mental health

I feel it is important to include this one, as it is something you may not realize is even happening to you. Coming from Australia, the land of sunshine and long summers, to the exact opposite of that is a shock to the system. It’s that fact that you’re not able to spend as much time outside, and that everything natural (except for the evergreen fir trees) loses its colour, and that the days are so short. The biggest factor is the lack of natural light.

Winter will give you a Vitamin D deficiency

Generally, there aren’t too many sunny days. The sun will peek through now and then, and only on the days when it’s really really cold.

Even if you are an Aussie who spent most of their time indoors in Australia, you still got sun exposure inside buildings and vehicles because of windows and the fact that part of your skin, even if it’s just your forearms, was usually exposed. Here, because buildings are designed to retain heat, they have less windows. The daylight hours are also so short that it’s possible that your skin won’t never see the sun for six months.

Depending on the type of work you do, you could spend most of winter in the dark. Say you get a 9 to 5 job. The shortest days of winter are 8 hours long, because the sun rises at 8am and sets at 4pm. If you leave your house at 730am, it’s dark. You get on the subway, you’re in the dark. You arrive at work and you scurry from the subway station to your office – maybe you’ll get a glimpse of the sun.

Your office doesn’t have windows so you’re inside with artificial lighting. On your lunch break, you brave the cold to stand in the sun, only it’s too cold to stand there for long, and you’re covered head to toe anyway. You finish work at 5pm and it’s dark.

That leaves you with just the weekends to seek out the sun, and there’s no guarantee it will show up at all.

Unless you’re super brave and love the extreme cold and want to go out there no matter what, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time inside.

Wildlife disappears

Well, almost. Especially by January and February, there’s not a creature to be seen. You forget that you haven’t heard a bird chirp for months until they start to reappear in spring, around mid March/early April when the snow starts melting.

This is what I call the big tease after the big freeze

A beacon of hope! The snow is melting!

Which means flooding

And mud. Lots of mud.

As the frozen ground starts to thaw, it shifts, and the frozen piles of snow and ground water melt and can seep into lower levels of buildings.

It is common for basements to flood during this time, unless the owner has a flood management system in place.
If you live in a basement apartment, or keep a car or a bicycle in an underground space, be aware of this.

You start to get some warmer days, a sunny 5 to 10 degrees, but Jack Frost still has a few snow storms left in him. As I said, it doesn’t consistently stay above 15 degrees until late May/early June.

Watch your head!

You will see these signs all around the city as melting snow starts to fall off the roofs of buildings. At least they’re nice enough to warn you.

Watch out for dog poo!

Grassy areas become a soggy mess, and several piles of dog poo that owners buried in the snow (instead of picking them up) make an appearance.

Ok, so what’s good about living in winter?

I know. I’ve made it sound like living in winter is hell. So I guess I should point out some of the positives of it:

Winter is magical

It really is a sight to behold. When the city is blanketed in snow, or you look closely at the pretty formations of ice crystals, it’s quite gorgeous and fascinating.

Free ice skating!

Coming from Australia where entry to a rink is about $25, it’s amazing to see how many free outdoor rinks there are in the City of Toronto. Many of them have facilities such as indoor change rooms. You just bring your own skates and go for it!

Not to mention….

Less sun damage: You might go back to Australia looking 10 years younger than your mates because you haven’t had as much UV exposure

No bugs. They all go dormant in winter. There’s not a roach or a fly or a mosquito to be seen. You may see tiny (by Aussie standards) house spiders and centipedes in damp areas (mostly basements), which are harmless but look absolutely terrifying with their ridiculous number of legs.

If you identify as female, and you wear clothes marketed to people who identify as female, you will suddenly be blessed with pockets thanks to your winter coat. It is possible to leave the house without a purse!

The “hibernation-friendly” weather is conducive to studying and shift work. It’s very easy to fall asleep on command, or keep your head in the books in the dark and dreary months, because you’re not really missing much outside.

But the biggest thing about the weather here is…

It really makes you appreciate good weather. I never took hot weather or the beach for granted when I lived in Australia, but now I really understand how it feels to be deprived of sunshine and the outdoors and I feel so grateful when summer comes and we can embrace the outdoors again. I don’t think I have ever been so excited to be able to keep my windows open. And I promise I will never say “I’m freezing!” while back in Australia, ever again. (But I will definitely give Australians a hard time when they dare to complain about the “cold” in front of me).

So now that you’ve read all this about winter, do you still want to live here?

Have I scared you off, or are you even more up for it now? Let me know in the comments, and share with your friends who swear they prefer cold weather!

Read next: How to dress for a Canadian winter!

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