Winters in Canada

Find out about coping with winters in Canada; keeping warm, clothing for adults and children, clearing driveways and driving in extreme weather conditions...

Winters in Canada can be harsh, with temperatures falling well below the freezing mark. Winter typically lasts from November until late March, and it is normal for snow to be on the ground for this length of time in many provinces/territories.

The harshness of winter conditions in Canada depends on the province or territory.  For example, coastal British Columbia (Vancouver) is relatively mild, with temperatures normally above freezing point and generally more rain than snow, during the winter months. However, the majority of Canada, particularly the more central and northern parts of the country, experience harsh winter conditions, with abundant snow and temperatures below zero.

Weather in Canada

Apart from the extremely cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, blizzards, freezing rain and high wind chills are common hazards during Canadian winters. It is advised to regularly check weather forecasts before venturing outside as weather can change quickly. There are television channels devoted to the weather, as well as regular weather updates on local news bulletins and on radio channels. It is particularly important to check the wind chill factor, as this can significantly affect how cold it feels when outside.

Clothing in Extreme Cold Temperatures

  • Dress in layers, with a wind and waterproof outside layer. It is best to buy winter clothing in Canada, as these are specifically made for the Canadian climate
  • Get proper insulated winter boots, designed to withstand minus temperatures
  • Wear a good winter hat and gloves. Mittens are warmer than gloves. A thin under-glove is also recommended so hands are not completely exposed to the cold if the person has to remove their gloves/mittens
  • Thermal undergarments (or Thinsulate long-johns and tops) are recommended to provide extra protection against the cold, if spending time outdoors in minus temperatures
  • Snoods or scarves are useful to cover the face and protect the mouth, nose and lungs from the cold air

For more information about preparing for Canadian winters

Looking After Children in Winter

  • Watch for frostbite on small children; notable signs include a small white patch on exposed skin, normally the cheeks.
  • Dress children in layers and always make sure they wear mittens, hats and waterproof warm clothing. Dress children in one more layer than an adult would wear
  • Keep children dry. Try to play close to home so if they get wet, there is somewhere warm and dry within close proximity
  • Watch out for shivering; this is a sign to go indoors
  • Wool socks and woollen garments next to the skin are advised, as they keep the skin warm and dry, unlike cotton which absorbs sweat so may get damp

Caring for Kids has more information about winter safety for children

Driving in the Winter

Main roads in populated areas are normally cleared quickly by snow ploughs after a snow fall. However, it is common to have to drive at some point in snowy and icy conditions.

Drivers should prepare and maintain their vehicle for winter driving conditions in the following way:

  • Install winter tyres. Canada has an industry standard for snow tyres to help consumers identify which tyres have the necessary traction for winter conditions. These normally have a pictograph of a mountain and snowflake on the side of the tyre
  • Ensure the fluid in the windscreen wiper reservoir and anti-freeze in the cooling system is designed for use in cold temperatures
  • When temperatures fall below freezing do not let the petrol tank get too low or it will freeze. It is advisable to keep the fuel gauge above half
  • When temperatures go below -20°C, a block heater or battery warmer can be useful to ensure the engine starts properly.
  • Wash the vehicle regularly to get rid of corrosive salt and grit from the roads, or rustproof the vehicle

The following items should be kept in the vehicle during the winter in the event of a breakdown:

  • Snow shovel
  • Mobile phone and charger
  • Brush and ice scraper
  • Candle and matches or torch
  • Additional warm clothing
  • Bag of sand or cat litter
  • Emergency food
  • Blankets and extra hats and gloves

Driving in snow and icy conditions

It is advised to drive slowly in snow and icy conditions and avoid sudden stops, hard braking or sudden acceleration. Winter driving courses are available from local driving schools to educate people about the dangers of driving in winter conditions. Listen or watch for the regular weather bulletins. It is not recommended to drive when freezing rain or snowstorms are expected.

Homes and Heating

The vast majority of houses in Canada are equipped with central heating and a thermostat, so internal temperatures can be controlled. Homes normally have electric heaters, natural gas or oil furnaces which blow warm air through vents. Canadian homes are also well insulated and therefore, stay warm. It is recommended to keep the thermostat above five degrees in the winter so that water pipes do not freeze. Homes should be prepared for winter by checking air vents, window seals and insulation.

For advice on preparing a home for winter

Households should have a torch, candles or oil lamps close to hand inside the home, in case of power outages caused by high winds or snowstorms. A gas cooker or stove is also recommended in case of outages.

Clearing Driveways

Driveways need to be cleared from snow on a regular basis. There are a number of options for doing this:

  • Employ someone to do it; In most urban areas there are companies who can come and clear the drive way when it snows. Normally a flat fee is paid for this service for the entire winter (regardless of how often the service is required). Check the yellow pages for listings under 'snow clearing services' or look for posts on neighbours' driveways (companies normally leave a post with their name and contact details indicating that that driveway is to be cleared)
  • Shovelling; Shovelling snow is hard work but a snow shovel is essential for most home owners in Canada. These can be bought from most large supermarkets and DIY shops such as Canadian Tire
  • Snow blower; Snow blowers are fairly expensive but offer a quicker and less labour intensive way to clear a drive way
  • Steps and pathways should be gritted

Other Factors

Winters are often dry and cold so static electricity can be a problem. Fabric softeners, humidifiers and sprays can help reduce the problem.

Further Information