Winter’s always colder on the other side
“Canada? Wow! It’s cold up there!” This is often the reaction I get when someone learns that I’m Canadian. Many people that I’ve met who are not from Canada say they could not survive our cold winters and shiver at the very thought. It’s true: as a country we score far enough below zero degrees Celsius to earn a place among the world’s coldest countries.
In fact, we’re proud of our cold temperatures. If you get a few Canadians from different parts of the country in a room together, they inevitably start playing a sort of temperature limbo, each boasting about how far below zero their city gets in the winter.
Being from Victoria, I always lose this competition.
I’ve lived in this city for most of my life and have never experienced a winter too far below -5 degrees Celsius. Victoria’s average minimum temperature in December and January is 4 degrees, with an average of 5 days per year that the minimum temperature drops below -2 degrees.
And if you want to snort your double-double through your nose, just compare Victoria’s temperatures to Toronto’s average of -7 in January and -3 in December, and its average of 22 days of the year where the minimum temperature drops below -10 degrees. Or Québec City, which averages -11 in December and -16 in January, with an average of 21 days in the year where the minimum temperature drops below -20 degrees.
If you throw Canada’s northern territories into the mix, there’s no competition. The average low in Yellowknife and Iqaluit in January is around -30, while in Whitehorse it is a balmy -19.
Victorians and Vancouverites can go weeks without seeing the sun during the winter. This is so normal that we forget about it, and then wonder why we feel depressed.
When Victorians feel cold in the winter, we know that we shouldn’t really complain because the rest of the country has it worse off. This phenomenon has created a finish-your-dinner-because-children-are-starving-in-Africa type feeling of guilt for much of my life. Any time I have complained about the cold of winter in Victoria, I have felt it necessary to backtrack, and remind myself that this is nothing compared to what those poor suckers are suffering in Edmonton, or Toronto, or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter.
Victoria’s winter temperatures are an embarrassing outlier on Canada’s otherwise impressive winter temperature records. Does this make us phony Canadians?
But recently I’ve heard from people that have moved to Victoria from other parts of Canada who have changed the way I judge our winters. My hairdresser from Medicine Hat mentioned the humidity — that damp ocean air chills you right to the bone. No matter how many layers you put on, it just seems to seep in through the seams of your jeans and never leave.
And then there’s the clouds. Victorians and Vancouverites can go weeks without seeing the sun during the winter. This is so normal that we forget about it, and then wonder why we feel depressed. In January, Vancouver gets an average of seventeen days of rain, while Edmonton doesn’t usually get more than one.
The other factors that contribute to Victoria’s unexpectedly insidious winters are undeniably our fault, but contribute no less to the situation. The first is our notorious lack of proper winter clothing. I have gone many a winter rocking Keds because I couldn’t be bothered to buy proper winter boots, telling myself the suffering would end soon enough. Friends constantly tell me similar stories about winters spent in hoodies and tennis shoes.
Is a Victorian wearing a hoodie and Keds in 0 degree weather colder than a Torontonian wearing a proper down jacket, insulated boots, and fleece-lined jeans in -15? You might need a mathematician or a psychologist — or both — to figure that one out, but either way you’d have to factor in an awful lot of denial on the Victorian side of the equation.
The city is similarly unwilling to invest in proper winter gear. As reported by the Martlet, many UVic students will remember huddling for warmth like a flock of penguins at the bus loop in February 2017, when the university closed due to “extreme weather conditions” — also known as a snowfall between 15 and 20 centimetres. This probably had the rest of the country doubled over with laughter, but the fact is our city doesn’t have many snow plows and few people own chains for their tires, so a small amount of snow will indeed shut down the city.
Victoria shut down that day over much less snow than other Canadian cities can handle in the winter. Our unpreparedness and lack of snow equipment is silly, but nonetheless a factor that makes winter dicey here.
I’m not trying to justify people’s feelings about Victoria’s winters. Cold ocean air will never compare to -30, but it’s just that we’re not exactly having luaus on the beach all winter long either. While the rest of Canada is warming themselves up with their indignant temperature one-upmanship, we zip up our hoodies and buckle down through winter, with the solace of knowing that in mid-February we will smugly broadcast our flower count to the rest of the country once again.