Cansplaining: Canadians Love Winter … at Times
This instalment of our series on Canada-U.S. differences explores Canadians' deep, abiding love of winter – including when they get to escape it
Editor's note: Canada and the United States share a number of similarities – but few know the differences better than Kevin Bracken, who moved to Toronto from Long Island, New York, in 2003 to attend university and never looked back. Based on excerpts from Bracken’s free-to-download book What’s Different in Canada?, our Cansplaining series helps Canadians know themselves better, and may be of interest to Americans who feel motivated for whatever reason to learn more about a new country.
When people threaten to move to Canada, they usually sing some pretty predictable praises, from the free healthcare to the low crime, but the conversation inevitably falls back to one, irrefutable objection: The winter sucks.
There is no sugarcoating it. In some parts of Canada, winter weather lasts fully half the year. There are some great things about winter, of course, but most of them happen before New Year’s Eve. Here are some of the redeeming elements of Canadian winter that have nothing to do with the holidays.
Hockey is extremely popular in Canada, of course. Every Canadian knows somebody who plays “the game,” and children grow up playing hockey in local rinks, frozen ponds and sometimes hose-flooded backyards. Canada produces the best hockey players in the world, but they don’t always end up on Canadian teams. This is why the Maple Leafs are the most profitable franchise in the NHL but have a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Despite hockey’s popularity, though, curling is, without a doubt the most Canadian sport. Hockey cannot even compare. Much less popular on the U.S. side of the border (with exceptions), curling is kind of like darts on ice: Players slide stones on a sheet of ice toward concentric circles with various scores in each one, then aggressively “sweep” the ice with special brooms to direct the stone toward the circles. Canada always places first or second at the Winter Olympics in curling. The most significant non-Olympic curling event in Canada is the Tim Hortons Brier, named after a freakin’ Canadian coffee chain named after a Canadian athlete.
Vacationing at Home
Most people know Canada enjoys world-class skiing and snowboarding; it’s even a common joke that Americans will show up to the Canadian border in July believing they can simply drive to a slope. However, between places like Whistler, B.C., and Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada really does have some of the best winter destinations around. Ontario gets pretty screwed in this regard, with most ski resorts in this province being overgrown (and overhyped) hills. Sorry, Blue Mountain.
Beyond skiing, there is the time-honoured tradition of the chalet, not to be confused with the cottage. Many who have lived in Canada their whole lives has access to some kind of summer cottage near a lake, which is often a small, crappy house with maybe one working bathroom and lots of spiders.
A chalet is a nicer vacation rental that may include lake access, a hot tub, exposed wood beam construction, and heating for year-round recreation. This is a less austere, more expensive cottage you can rent in the winter when you want to, inexplicably, head even further into the cold parts of Canada. The chalet is great for partying, ice fishing, serving as a home base for skiing and snowboarding, and general relaxation.
Vacationing in Cuba
One oft-employed strategy to dealing with Canadian winter is visiting a tropical country, namely Cuba. Unlike the United States, Canada has always had friendly relations with Cuba, despite considerable pressure from the Americans. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro were lifelong friends; in fact, Fidel Castro was even a pallbearer at Trudeau’s funeral.
Canadians are also the Number One visitors to Cuba annually, and boy, do they love to tell you about it. Canadians can check out crumbling Cuban architecture and stay in Cuban hotels freely. Canadians often say the best thing about Cuba is the lack of American tourists, so the most common advice seems to be to hurry up and visit Havana before it’s “ruined by Americans.”
Canadians can also drink Cuban rum and smoke Cuban cigars (the U.S. took steps toward making these products legal for its residents last fall, but the new administration could reverse that.)
They can just generally cavort in Cuba in a way Americans still technically cannot without euphemistically labelling it an “educational journey,” or something along those lines. [And there’s speculation now as to whether even the limited amount of Cuban travel currently allowed will be rolled back under the new Trump administration. – ed.]
Winter is better than it looks
Beyond these minor diversions, most Canadians just suck it up, put on their “tuque” (the Canadian word for a knit cap), longjohns, wool socks, and head out into the snow. The look of a Canadian city in the winter is gently-rising steam, snow piled up on the sidewalks, and a sort of permanent salt ring that clings to the bottom of people’s jeans and boots. Sure, the winter sucks, but maybe the shared experience of winter is what makes Canada so great after all: Snow clearing is the ultimate act of working together for a better society, and at the very least it is the start of a million bus stop and coffee line conversations each morning: “It’s cold, eh?”