Dear Immigrants

Dear People Immigrating To Ottawa, Canada, From Warm Climates:

I am writing this because every year, as fall turns to winter, I see lots of people in the halls and at the bus stops huddling, hands in pockets, looking vaguely shocked, shivering and very badly underdressed for the weather. I’ve been meaning to say this for some time, so let me say it now: welcome to Ottawa, I hope that you enjoy your stay, I believe it to be a very nice city, in many respects and most of the time. However, there are a few things that you should know if you’re planning on staying here for any length of time, double-especially if you’re staying over the winter months.

You see, the winters here are cold. They are not cold in the way you might believe “cold” to work – they are far, far colder than that. There’s a good chance that your heaviest jacket is what I would call a windbreaker – that is, something that I’d only wear in the spring, or possibly in late summer.

If it does not snow in your country, and that snow does not stay on the ground and pile up, you are not currently equipped for this climate.

When you get here, you will probably need to buy two coats; one heavy fall/winter jacket, and one jacket that just seems huge and heavy and absurd, like humans can’t possibly live in climates where clothing like that is necessary.

I am not telling you this to scare you away; this is the reality of the situation. Canadian winters, especially in the Ottawa valley, are long and cold. You will need good gloves, and you will need good boots, and you will need a toque.

That second jacket I describe, you’ll need that because every year we get two to four weeks, typically between mid-January and the beginning of March, that are colder than anything you have ever experienced in your life, ever. Forty-five degrees below zero, with the wind chill, is not unheard-of. Thirty-five below is not even unusual. The weather reports, during those periods, will describe the cold the way overexposure to sun is described in the summertime; not in degrees, but in the number of minutes that exposed skin can remain exposed to the elements and not be permanently damaged.

This is not a joke, and it is not an exaggeration: it is the truth. When you arrive in my country, I urge you to befriend a local and ask them what kind of winter clothing you will need, and to pick that stuff up before the winter starts in earnest. Which is usually around now, November.

Other than that, make yourself at home. Try learning to skate on the Rideau Canal, it’s a lot of fun.

17 Comments

  1. Posted November 15, 2005 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I miss Ottawa winters. Not that what Mr. Hoye describes is at all untrue – his dire warnings are, if anything, too gentle. However, the coldest days in Ottawa’s winters are also generally the sunniest, and offer its citizens some of the very best outdoor activities: skiing, skating, just walking around and hearing the crunch of the snow under your (hopefully heavy and waterproof) boots.

    Beats the wet dreary slush of Toronto anyway, I’ll tell you what.

  2. Posted November 16, 2005 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    You.

    Are.

    Insane.

    Seriously. Move. I can’t stand DC winters, and we only get 3 – 5 feet of snow in an entire winter. It melts in the interim between snowfalls. Those weeks where the temperature never goes above the freezing point? I hate them.

    I’m looking to move back further south where snow accumulations are measured at half a foot across an average winter. Gimme long hot summers full of 95+ (F) days, and mild winters. New England, the upper plains, and Canada: Frozen wastes of the North. When the frozen zombies show up, you’ll be regretting it.

  3. Posted November 16, 2005 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    I’ve been in Ireland for two years, now, and I’m starting to seriously miss the Canadian winter. Kingston is in a similar situation to Ottawa, if not quite so cold, but the advice is still valid.

  4. John
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Come on, Jamie. A week at -40 (that’s “-40″ in Fahrenheit) is just Good Clean Winter Fun(tm)!

  5. Melanie
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I miss Ottawa winters. So much. People here just don’t get it. “We get snow here” they say. By which they mean that there are little light snowfalls every once in a while that are gone by afternoon, and a few times a year a big “nor-easter” that dumps a bunch, and stays for a week, if you’re lucky. It is so much more depressing to have barren trees, dark afternoons, and vaguely cold temperatures when the ground is a dull brown.

  6. Posted November 16, 2005 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    God, I miss real winters.

    -40, without the windchill. Real snow! Pantaloons from October to April. 65 degrees north, with the daylight you get at that latitude.

  7. Posted November 16, 2005 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Thanks for reminding me why all the idiots haven’t yet driven me out of Texas.

  8. Posted November 16, 2005 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Yes John, I’m sure you love your -40[C|F] days, and you’re welcome to them. I miss living in a place where one pair of good socks and putting the liner in my full length leather is all that’s needed in the depths of winter.

    I also miss 90F nights in the summer. DC never really gets properly warm. Do you guys even see 100F degree weather up there? You just can’t enjoy the summer if you can’t swim naked at midnight and not have to worry about feeling chilly.

  9. Joani
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I miss Alberta winters. At least there’s not as much of this ‘rain’ – we usually get to the point and go straight to snow.

  10. Jerril
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Do you guys even see 100F degree weather up there? You just can’t enjoy the summer if you can’t swim naked at midnight and not have to worry about feeling chilly

    BWAHAHAHA. Do we even see… Hah! Try 110F for four weeks, no relief at night, sticky sticky humid and disgusting. That was this summer, and it was HORRIBLE. It was an unusual summer, but only for the length of the hot spell, not the degree.

    Yes, for most of the summer you can indeed go skinny dipping at even 4AM without getting chilled, as long as your lake isn’t fed by like 6 subteranian springs or something equally cold. And if it is, you’ll get chilled even in the day and you’ll LOVE it.

    We have hot summers. Just not long ones. And our winters are Serious.

  11. Zeynep
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Don’t plan to move to Ottawa any time soon, but this was still good advice. Should check where my snowpants are for the one 8 inch snowfall we’re likely to get this winter (no matter what Jamie says, it’s happened the past two years). Is fun. Enough fun for my purposes.

  12. Pat OConnell
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Been through a few winters like Mike’s describing, in Indiana. Thank you, but no thanks. I live in Albuquerque now, where winter visits (usually less than 5 inches, but occasionally over a foot of snow), but doesn’t remain over a week. If I want to visit and play in big snow I can go to the mountains, where snow often persists till May or even June.

  13. Posted November 16, 2005 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Oh Mike, it is so true!

    I miss the truly brutal winters of my fair hometown. I also recall going to school in the winter (as you so lovingly described) wearing sandals and shorts, but that was when I was 17 and almost certainly suffering from some undiagnosed metabolic disorder.

  14. Jamie
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Most of the people here in Toronto think they know what winter is. It is to laugh, especially since its the only city to have called in the army to fight a storm. Now, the townships north of the city are another story altogether, and understand what a real winter is. They just have no decent skiing.

  15. Ian Hurst
    Posted November 16, 2005 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Hm. 78 degrees in San Diego today. Y’all are nuts!

  16. Posted November 17, 2005 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Ian, it is indeed an insanity that has taken over here in the Great White North. Residents and particularly those born in this freezer are afflicted equally. The new residents may take a season or two before the virus gets a good footing. After that, you will see both types of folks smiling at each other and remarking that it “Sure is cold – eh?”

    Once it takes hold, the poor victims are unwaivering in their belief that living in a place ill suited to support human life is a badge of honour and proves, not that they are nuts, but that they are tough.

    Whether by choice or coersion, a couple of calendar years spent living in a location where winter does not involve the scraping of ice and snow from car windows, walks, steps and driveways; the purchase of excessive protective gear (more frequent for the growing children in the cult) and subsequent donning of same (adding many minutes to each trip in and out of doors, multiplied several fold by the number of young persons involved); sliding (can’t call it walking) on unshoveled and often ice covered city streets and sidewalks (budgeting for seasonal expenses is not usually exact); driving on highways and side streets known to be harbouring the wicked black ice (often talked about, frequently cited as the cause of winter pileups and sometimes fatalities, but, like the boogey man of everyone’s youth: Never Seen).

    Political borders and regulations keep the sane few hostage in this wild country. Please help us by lobbying your Congress for a new refugee status on compassionate grounds: Extreme Weather.

    I would be most grateful. Yes, I AM Canadian. But I know better now. Thanks. See you in the spring????

  17. Posted November 17, 2005 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Uh, my run on sentence above isn’t complete is it?

    Meant it to read like this:

    “Whether by choice or coersion, a couple of calendar years spent living in a location where winter does not involve [winter hazards,etc] brings the patient back to his or her senses.”

    Sorry. I’m blaming the small editing window. Oh and the cold. Right.