I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere so it goes without saying that freezing temperatures and snow are a novelty. When we moved to Canada two years ago, I had already experienced two Manitoba winters and one in Montreal. Canadian winters didn’t frighten me, they excited me!
My first winters in Canada were a lot of fun. When I was visiting Manitoba, I relished the cold and have pictures of my 13-year-old self-plunging in the snow in my bikini and, years later, my 21-year-old self snow shoeing beer in hand.
It was only when we permanently moved to Manitoba and I winters became a lot harsher reality that I quickly lost my optimism for the snow and the cold. During our first winter in 2012/2013 it was so cold that even the Canadians complained and told us how rare that winter was, how extreme and how unusual.
The following year proved to be exceptional, once again. Exceptionally cold. The coldest winter, in fact, in 100 years. So far our winters were following an alarming trend. -20 is no joke when you want to go for a simple walk and have to get from the grocery store to your car at the end of the lot with a handful of groceries. -30 is no joke when you need to leave your car anywhere that doesn’t have a plug point. And I’m not even going to talk about what -50 means and how it felt to hit -51 last Christmas.
But Manitoban winters can be fun and here are my survival techniques:
Take Up a New Sport
I’m awful at ice-skating but Winnipeg happens to have one of the longest skating trail in the world, dotted with unique warming huts architecture students design each year. So I learnt how to skate. I’m also not too hot on skis and there are no mountains in Manitoba but I learnt how to ski because there are some incredible cross country trails. And snow-shoeing might not be a sport but it’s a damn good walk out and a fun way to get off the trails and into the deep silence of the bush.
This goes with the above. When I was living in Australia, winter was a time to eat lots of pies and stews and get fat. Summer was a time to get fit. In Canada everyone hits the gym hard in winter and then spends summer enjoying their body and getting fat drinking beer at the lake. Personally I’m all for the Canadians approach. Use winter as a time to burn calories in the gym when it’s too cold to go outside or work on that new sport you’ve learnt when the weather behaves.
Of course, winter is also a great time to hibernate and I like to use it as an excuse to my way around the city. During summer, we load up the car on Friday evenings after work and hotfoot it to the lake for the weekend. In winter, I feel like I can explore the city a lot more. I’m also lucky because Winnipeggers are a tough bunch and so not only do we have some great restaurants, but we have one that pops up every year on the ice for our dining pleasure. That longest skating trail in the world I mentioned earlier? It happens to start right next to this popup restaurant and is perfect for a Sunday brunch or even dinner (if you’re lucky enough to secure a dinner ticket because they sell out ridiculously fast.)
Embrace the Outdoors
Last year, despite it being the coldest winter in 100 years etc, Johnny and I both volunteered at Festival du Voyageur. It was freezing! It was fantastic! We’ve both signed up again this year! You can embrace the outdoors without all the exercise I mentioned earlier and just enjoy drinking Caribou from frozen shot glasses or rolling maple taffy at the sugar shack. Other, less strenuous, outdoor activities (that incidentally also involve alcohol) include ice-fishing, cooking bannock on sticks over the fire or relaxing in the thermal baths at Thermea.
Become and Ice Road Trucker
Well, not really, but at least try out the experience. Two hours North of Winnipeg is an actual, straight-from-tv, legit, ice road. Ice roads are the lifeline to many of communities up north and our nearest entrance is close to Hecla. I still find it amazing that you can drive on the lake and not plunge through to your death. Anyway, it’s no harder than driving on our regular roads during winter. How many people actually get to say they drove on an ice road in their lifetime?
Not permanently, but just for long enough to take a breather from the extreme temperatures. Winnipegers are always complaining how far away they are from everything. But, after living in Australia for six years, which really is far away from EVERYTHING, I was delighted at how close the States, Europe and other Canadian destinations suddenly were. Last year we spent a week in Florida over Christmas and this year and week in Whistler, again over Christmas. Those week long “quickie” trips would never have been an option when were in Australia.
Do you have extreme winters in your part of the world? How do you handle the cold?