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Enjoying Winter In Canada

In a country the size of Canada, where it takes a number of days to drive from one coast to the other, the weather can vary greatly from region to region. Winter in Toronto, Ontario can be as mild as in Paris, France; Winnipeg, Manitoba can be downright frigid; while in Victoria, British Columbia, located in the southern end of Vancouver Island, golf courses remain open year-round!

What kind of weather can I expect December - March?

You can expect major snowstorms anywhere in Canada, and severe sub-zero temperatures in the Prairies, Ontario and Quebec. Winter weather in Atlantic Canada is typically not as mild as areas along the Pacific.

Apart from Vancouver and Vancouver Island, can I expect mild weather anywhere else in Canada?


In Calgary and the area around southern Alberta, people can leave their homes in the morning wearing parkas in -20 degrees Celsius weather - and return home that evening carrying them because the temperature has soared to + 20 degrees Celsius. This naturally occurring phenomenon, called a Chinook, only lasts a few hours however.

In Toronto, nearby Lake Ontario produces a moderating influence on the weather, which means a major snowstorm occurring in the far northern suburbs of the city may not extend southward to the areas closer to the lake. This is known as the “Lake Effect”.

How are homes heated?

Canadian homes are heated centrally and heating costs can be high in winter since it takes a considerable amount of fuel to maintain indoor temperatures around 19 degrees Celsius when it is minus 19 degrees Celsius outside. Factor this additional cost if you are renting. While the cost of heat (oil, natural gas, electric or hot water) might be included in the rent, it is worth confirming this with your landlord before signing a lease.

How do I dress in winter?

Canadians tend to “layer” their winter clothing: winter jackets over sweaters, shirts, and in some instances, long underwear. However, Canadians are style conscious too! You can find attractive winter clothing in a multitude of discount clothing stores or in second-hand shops without having to spend a lot of money. In colder regions, you may want to invest in insulated gloves, boots, and a warm hat. Even though wearing a hat (or a toque as do many Canadians) may interfere with your hairstyle, “hat head” is better than frostbite!

If you plan to be outdoors in temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius, or with a wind chill, bundle up! Exposed human skin, particularly the extremities, can freeze in minutes. Expose as little skin as possible and avoid long hikes. If you must be outside for any length of time, take shelter indoors often to warm up.

Should I avoid going outside?

Not at all! Canadians definitely don't hibernate. While it's important to dress for the elements, some large Canadian cities have connected their transportation grids to pedestrian underground walkways, which makes getting around in the winter much easier.

As cold as winters may get, Canadians brave the elements to enjoy a variety of winter activities: skiing (cross country and downhill), skating on outdoor rinks or frozen ponds, dog-sledding,  snowmobiling,  and ice fishing are but a few  of the activities that entice Canadians out of doors during the colder months.

Download the full Guide For Participants Coming To Canada (PDF* 570 KB) brochure.

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