How To Survive A Canadian Winter When You're Australian

by BrookeVanBeek

From the Land Down Under and now in the Land of the Maple Leaf? Here are a few tips to survive and thrive the wild Canadian winter.

Few things can compare to the extreme cold and harshness of an Ontario winter--think frozen hands, frozen toes and frozen hair. For an Australian living in Canada, braving the ridiculously cold temperatures and relentless wind characteristic of an Ontario winter will be a tremendous feat of acclimatization. Though Australians like to "tough it out" when it comes to cold weather down under, surviving an Ontario winter is a whole other kettle of fish. Here are a few suggestions to help Aussies survive a cold and snowy Canadian winter.

Be Prepared for FREEZING Cold Weather

Aussies think temperatures in the single digits are nearly unbearable. Canada will come as quite a shock.

The term "Australian winter" is an oxymoron to non-Aussies--most Canadians think it's warm all the time in Australia, sort of like Florida.  Although Australia does have a winter and it gets "cold," gloves are never needed and scarf-wearing is more a fashion decision than an, "I might die of hypothermia if I don't wrap layers of wool around my throat," decision.

The only way to endure the winter months in Canada is to prepare yourself and your family with the proper outerwear. Lined winter coat, hat, scarf and mittens or gloves are an absolute necessity for any venture outside. Snow pants are recommended for activities such as tobogganing, ice skating, snowboarding or skiing. Sunglasses or goggles and sunscreen are a must for skiing as the glare off the snow can be intense. Most Ontarians learn to layer their clothing so outer layers can be removed while indoors. Think thermals or light cotton as a first layer, then wool or fleece sweaters on top, followed by some outerwear, and no exposed skin. Even if you plan to arrive in Canada during winter, you are best to purchase winter clothing here as the price, selection and suitability is much better than can easily be found in Australia. For children's clothes especially, thrift shops can be a good place to shop to avoid a big financial outlay on clothing that may only last one season.

Get To Know Tim Horton's

Canadians have a sweet obsession with this brown and orange coffee shop.

Founded by and named after a former hockey player, Tim Horton's is the national coffee shop.  They are impossible to miss as there is one on nearly every city corner.  Coffee, tea, latte or hot chocolate, you can hit the drive through as well and get the hot beverage of your choice to warm up your hands and your insides. Ask for a "double double" to get a coffee with two milks and two sugars. Timmy's - as it is affectionately known - also has doughnuts, muffins, sandwiches and soups, and the prices are the cheapest around.

Although Canada has other "more posh" coffee shops, Tim Horton's is just what they do.  Most Canadians will visit Tim's an average five days a week for their daily coffee.  It's a great place to take the kids for a little outing and treat without dropping a handful of bills.  And again, it's got hot things--which you will be begging for on a cold winter's day.

Maintain Your Vehicle

Keep you car in good working order because a breakdown could cost you more than a tow truck ride.

Keeping your car well supplied is important for both comfort and safety. Any vehicle should have the following equipment: ice scraper, snow brush, wool blanket and food rations in case you should get stuck in the snow. Make sure windshield washer fluid is always topped up and wipers are in good working order. Always warm the car up for several minutes before driving. In some places, cars can be plugged into electrical outlets to warm the engine. Snow tires are well worth the money and be sure to always drive cautiously. Black ice occurs when temperatures fluctuate around freezing and a dangerously thin layer of invisible ice forms on the road surface. If it's snowing heavily, stay home.  School buses are often cancelled if road conditions are unsafe, so you shouldn't be driving either.  No one will begrudge you missing and event when the driving conditions are wild and wet. 

Many people also carry a survival pack of granola bars, bottled water, extra blankets and a shovel, especially if you might find yourself driving down quiet or country roads.  And of course, make sure your cell phone is charged in case you need to call for help.

Enjoy The Snow!

Most Aussies will have never even seen snow--so get out there and jump in!

The snow is as magical and beautiful as you think it is. However, it's also wet and very heavy when trying to shovel it off the driveway at six in the morning to get the car out to go to work. Stretch before shoveling and lift with your legs. Better still, hire a local teenager to do the shoveling for you. A common mistake is waiting until the snow fall is over to shovel, but by this time, the snow may be too thick and heavy to shovel.  It's best to get out there even six inches or so and clear your drive.  Some cities require that sidewalks are cleared withing 24 hours of a snowfall--check with your municipality to see if these rules apply. Surprisingly, it is usually not that cold when it snows, but with the biting wind, the temperature here can often feel more than ten degrees colder.

After the snowfall, get out and play!  Tobogganing is fantastic fun and hills abound through most neighbourhoods.  Building snow men, making snow angels and snow forts are all great pastimes of Canadian children.  You surely can't do any of these things in sunny Oz, so get out there and enjoy it!

Go On Holiday

Many hot and sunny destinations are quick and easy to get to from Canada.

Many older Ontarians spend the entire winter in Florida or some other tropical area. If you can't sit out the whole winter in warmer climes, arrange a holiday for one or two weeks. It's a great way to break up the monotony of the season and refresh yourself until spring.  Popular destinations include Mexico, Cuba and of course Florida.  During March there is a week long school break so book your flights and get out of the cold for a spell--you will return feeling refreshed and ready to battle through the last few weeks of winter.

Summer WIll Arrive. Eventually.

When the world is covered in mountains of snow it seems like the trees will never bloom again.

Though winter in Ontario can feel like it will last forever, summer will eventually arrive and it will be fantastic. Sometimes warmer temperatures begin in late April and can last until late September. Often in February or March there will be a "chinook" - a warm spell of unusually high temperatures that lasts for about a week. Many a Canadian gets a sunburn during this time because they are so desperate for some sun! Summer in Ontario can get very hot and humid so many Australians will feel right at home.

Winter in Ontario is quite an experience and change of pace for an Australian. The cool rainy days of a Perth winter will seem like heaven, and the Gold Coast like paradise on earth! Many people enjoy the extremes of temperature and change in season, and Ontarians are good at keeping active with a myriad of winter activities. Good luck, and keep warm!

Updated: 02/16/2013, BrookeVanBeek
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BrookeVanBeek on 04/25/2013

Oh, I am Canadian--born and bred Ontarian. Welland then Oakville. Never actually been to BC myself, though many Australians over here have told me it's lovely!

The thing with Tim's--it's just what we do I think. I don't actually drink coffee, so it was more about getting the box of dozen doughnuts on a Sunday as a kid, sitting there until the wee hours chatting with friends as a teen, then getting coffees for work mates when I worked night shifts, and now when we visit my kids love to get Timbits. My husband (an Aussie) thought it was hilarious when we saw a Starbucks and a Tim Horton's side by side in Toronto--six people at Starbucks, 75 people at Tim's. "But the Starbucks coffee is better," he said. "It's just what we do," I explained. :)

thegoodvillager on 04/25/2013

I've never understood the reverence for Tim's - and I grew up in Ontario. The coffee is disgusting. (I know I'm probably breaking some law by saying that ;) )

Just out of curiosity, why did you choose Ontario over BC? Having lived in both places, I met way more Aussies on the West Coast. The mountains are a huge draw.

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