What Living Through Canadian Winter is Like

By Piyushi Dhir

When we first came to Canada from the warm climes of West Africa, we had quite a weather shock. My husband landed here in late January, at the peak of a cruel winter. My son and I landed 6 weeks later, while Canada was still experiencing sub-zero temperatures.

None of us had warm jackets, boots, gloves, or caps. We hastened to equip ourselves but still shuddered at the bus stops while waiting to catch public transport. Having one’s own car was a luxury in those early days. I remember pushing my 1.5year old in a stroller and wondering if I had dressed him warm enough or overdressed him. It was all guesswork.

The first pair of boots I bought were all wrong. Of course, I didn’t know it then. After shelling out $50 on a pretty pair of fur boots, I discovered to my dismay that they did not keep the snow out. I would hobble into the house with frozen toes. A mere few weeks later, they broke.

Landing in Canada During Winter

After a warm and reassuring summer, we prepped for our first proper winter. We asked friends and acquaintances for help. We asked for advice and explanation. I still remember slipping over the frozen ice on our porch until one friend explained that we needed to put salt on the stairs and the driveway. Another friend took me to a shoe store and explained the identity of a good pair of winter boots. I have been very happy with my educated purchase thereafter. I will also not forget shuddering inside my warm coat in those early days, until the locals explained to us the logic of layering clothes for greater warmth.

We learnt to shovel the driveway and clean the snow off the car. We learnt to check the weather before stepping out and dress accordingly. We mastered the art of walking on icy sidewalks without more than an occasional fall. We even learnt to make our first snowman!

But what I didn’t learn was that the short, dark and bleak days can impact one’s mental health. I suffered through the first winter, feeling trapped, unable to do almost anything I was used to. By the second winter, I earned my drivers’ license and was at least mobile. I could go to a friend’s place if I was feeling low or head over to the nearest store to ostensibly make purchases, while soaking in the presence of humans and colourful artifacts.

One of the most difficult things about getting through a winter in Canada is that you tend to see far fewer people than you do in the warmer months. Your social life comes down to a simmer while everyone avoids stepping out in the blustery season. As a result, the most number of people you can see on a cold winter day is at the local mall or grocery store and these have become my favourite winter haunts.

Bright Winter Afternoons in Canada

I thought I was better prepared for my second winter, but I landed up across the table from a close friend after days of crying for no apparent reason. I got to know then about SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. My friend encouraged me to make a list of things I wanted to do and to go do it. I had to emerge from the ‘can’t do’ mindset that had sunk over me when everything around me was frozen white.

It was not easy to emerge from the desolation, but I signed up for Zumba classes at the local community center. I picked up a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn and tried to learn the art of knitting. I joined a local Writer’s group. And slowly I found myself getting busy with my new hobbies. Time flew by and before I knew it, I had knit two scarves, resumed writing that half-finished novel and the grass outside had started turning green. Spring was here!

My third and most recent winter in Canada should have been my most difficult one, for this time, we were in a lockdown owing to the COVID pandemic. What little I could do in the last few years, was now restricted.

But knowing this meant that I went into the winter even better prepared. Changing my attitude has helped a great deal. I work hard to not think of the winter as restricting and bleak. I look at it as a new season to enjoy Christmas festivities, hot chocolates and cozy movie sessions snuggled in my new blanket. I make it a point to meet my closest friends at least one to two times a week, even if it means clearing the snow off my car and driving out.

This winter, I worked out regularly with my friend- virtually if it was not possible to meet together. I picked up my most challenging project in knitting yet and look forward to successfully completing it before spring is here. I stocked up on the books I have been wanting to read. I spent many winter afternoons walking along trails and discovering the stunning beauty of Canadian winters.

And I find the days flying by.

I know there are many weeks to go before we will see the green grass again. But today, while I was out for a walk, I heard some chickadees chirping again. And I know spring is not far.

Until then, I have so much more to do, see and enjoy.

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About the Author

Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.