Cold Comfort


This week in Memphis, Tennessee — latitude 35 degrees north — they’re experiencing uncommonly low temperatures of 29 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s minus 2, for the rest of us. That’s below freezing, for all of us. So this morning, as they chafed their hands and worried about their porch-dwelling street kitty who won’t be coaxed indoors, Cliff said to Gina, “I wonder how people up north handle this.”

During heat waves, I’ve had the same question about people in the southern United States: How can they stand this hot weather? I’ve had to be informed, for example, that most homes down there come with air conditioning, which is an optional convenience in Canada.

So fair is fair. Here’s my take on how we Canadians — and many Americans, who live at higher latitudes than I (Toronto is only 43 degrees north, while Minneapolis is 45 and Seattle 47) handle the cold weather.

1. Attitude.

First, we expect it. Canadians like to joke that we have two seasons: Winter and July. We wear our snowbelt citizenship like a Rotary Club badge.

2. Clothing.

Pride begets investment. It is no shame to own gloves, mittens, touques, woolen scarves, thick leotards, heavy socks, flannel shirts, lined trousers, turtlenecks, pullovers, and cardigans. We own city-style winter boots and clumsy felt-lined boots, and coats in several weights and lengths. We wore undershirts before Marlon Brando rendered them sexy. Layering: it’s what we do.

3. Homes.

Our homes are heated. Homeowners may grumble about the cost of furnace oil or natural gas, but paying those bills is as unquestioned as buying food. Apartment buildings and rooming houses are legally required to provide a certain minimum temperature; many apartments are often overheated if there is a central control, because the units don’t heat evenly, so in order for the coldest apartment to be up to standard, others may be too warm. There are regulations for minimum insulation amounts as well.

4. City infrastructure.

Some of our cities have developed ways to keep the public indoors. There is an extensive underground pedestrian passageway in Montreal, and some in Toronto as well. The gigantic West Edmonton Mall is the world’s largest indoor shopping complex; I’m not sure if it still does, but it used to include a roller coaster, of all things! And of course subway transit systems are highly appreciated in that they run no matter how deep the snow piles up.

5. Winter sports.

One aid in warming up is to get colder. We walk the dog, go tobogganing, lace up skates, strap on skis or snowshoes, and go out for some fresh air. By the time we get in, the living room feels downright cozy.

6. Bodily adaptation.

I knew a young woman who moved to Montreal from Vietnam one September. She spent the first week huddled under blankets, while everyone else was still going outside in tee shirts or maybe nylon windbreakers.

I have been told, as well, about Sputnik. He was a Newfoundland dog my parents owned when they lived in the chilly prairie town of Saskatoon. He was an outside dog, with his own dog house. One Christmas Day it was minus 40, and Mum felt bad about the poor dog, all alone in the bitter cold. So they let Sputnik into the house. He immediately fainted. It was too warm for him. So they revived him and took him back outside, where he was happy as a clam.

And so, Gina and Cliff, I bet your street kitty will be fine — especially if he gets the odd nibble of tuna now and then, lucky cat!

8 Responses to Cold Comfort

  1. almostgotit says:

    Ah, I remember the underground stuff in Toronto. It was conceivable to live, shop, commute, and work all without ever going outdoors… esp downtown! (We lived at Bloor and Yonge for a while)

    Yes, Tennessee HAS been cold! The rain stopped yesterday, though, so we’ve had some sun at least.

  2. lavenderbay says:

    You know, Almostgotit, I was forgetting about the apartment towers — the Manulife Centre comes to mind — that are built right over the shopping. It’s out of our price range, but I think it would be great to live in a Manulife Centre unit and pop out to a grocery store, cafe, department store, bookstore, or movie theatre without needing to put on my coat or boots. Mind you, I can also picture myself becoming wider than I am tall.
    I’m glad to hear that the rain has stopped in your state. Cold rain is the pits.

  3. Gina says:

    Thank you for this! So informative and answered many questions I had, especially about the huge utility bills that are to be expected and the dogs which I really worry about in the cold.
    A house in the south would never sell if it didn’t have air conditioning or a window unit. They are a MUST. We have also learned to deal with the hot temps and our utility bill in the summer is really high!

  4. lavenderbay says:

    Oh good, Gina, I’m glad this piece helped a bit. It sounds like you folk and us folk pretty much even out when it comes to heating and cooling bills!
    It still amazes me how the far-northern breeds like Huskies manage to live in the snow, but they do. Wouldn’t try it with Tuffy and Mandy, though. 😉

  5. Bloor and Yonge … wow, I haven’t seen those names in forever! We used to go to Toronto every few years when I was much younger. Hey, don’t forget Dundas!

  6. Love the story about Sputnik!

    Here in Hawaii, temperatures are more or less uniform year round. Where I live, the daytime temp hovers around 80F (27C), give or take about five degrees, and the lowest dead-of-winter overnight low I can ever recall, at least at our elevation, was 58F (14C). But in the winter we do get more rain and more wind. While we can — and do — go to the beach year round, in winter it’s easy to separate the tourists from the locals. The tourists will be sunning themselves in their bikinis even on days when it’s windy and ‘only’ 75F, while the locals will be covered up, wearing sweatshirts.

    Except for those who just never, ever leave the islands, most of us here maintain a small cache of ‘mainland clothes’ to wear when we travel. The cache includes long-sleeved shirts, wool and corduroy trousers, warm socks, and some pullover sweaters. These items must be chosen carefully: they tend to last for decades since they are only worn on trips. I have a trusty London Fog trench coat with a toasty zip-in/zip-out lining. I purchased it in New York in the late 1980s. It still looks brand new, since it only gets hauled out once or twice a year. Thank goodness for ‘timeless’ designs!


  7. Alyson says:

    I can’t imagine it at all! I think it would be fun to exerience for a season…then again I don’t think my knees would cope! Snow is slippery right?

  8. lavenderbay says:

    I won’t forget Dundas, James. Umm… why, again? Drawina blank here.

    More iconoclasm, Bobbie? If I were asked for a good place to get sensible, classic clothing, my first guess wouldn’t have been Hawaii. 😀 The blogosphere has been very “broadening” for me, with its glimpses into far-away places that aren’t just a two-week adventure but real people’s real homes.

    Yes, snow can be slippery, Alyson, but you’d be wearing boots with treads, and picking your way along shoveled, salted sidewalks. People who need canes buy metal-pronged “ice grip” attachments which surpass the rubber tip and help them stay upright. There are ways. That said, walking on snow or ice does use more muscle power, which makes for one more excuse to stay indoors!

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