How to survive Canadian winter

Don’t walk on water—unless it’s safe!
Photo Colin Kusz

Colin Kusz

After almost five months of living here, I’ve made a handful of friends and a number of acquaintances, of whom only a small percentage seem to be from the nation’s capital. When I had some friends over for American Thanksgiving, the room consisted of a New Zealander, an Australian, an Englishman, a Welshman, myself, the Canadian, and of course, an American–just to be festive. Through my work as a recruiter, I meet a lot of newcomers who are seeking opportunities here in Ottawa and are having their first experience with below-zero temperatures and have just witnessed snow for the first time.

Here are my top tips for Canadian winter newbies and veteran snow bunnies alike:

Toques, scarves and mittens

These items are your new best friend. Toques of any sort will save your ears from frostbite and help keep the heat from escaping your head, but insulated toques are noticeably warmer. Scarves are fashionable and keep the cold from getting in. They can also be found on the cheap, so when you leave them in Ubers or at the dentist’s office, who cares? Even consider a balaclava for fully enveloped facial protection. Mittens are warmer than gloves because your body heat can transfer between your phalanges while they cuddle together cozily.

Wake up instantly

If you have the luxury of owning a remote car starter, life is good. If not, see the beauty in running outside in -20 degree temperatures while you’re still half asleep and having to start your car and brush the snow off of it. I used to do mine while I was still in my pajamas. Cold? Yes. Invigorating? Also yes.

Shiver me timbers

I find that people often try to restrain their body from shivering, whether they’re inside or outside, but shivering is the body’s defence mechanism to harsh Canadian winter. Shivering is essentially the way your body tries to increase its temperature.

Don’t walk on water—unless it’s safe!

I watch countless YouTube “fails” each year of people who walk on newly frozen lakes, rivers or streams, where everybody even the camera man knows the person is just moments away from falling in, basically begging for a chance of hypothermia. Don’t become Jack Frost!

Food & drink

When I was in primary school, we learned about Japan and how the children there eat lots of spicy food to stay warm in the winter. I recommend jalapenos and chili flakes as an easy way to add some spice to your dishes. For a beverage, appreciate hot chocolate season—guilt-free! At home, we like to make mulled wine by adding spices and citrus fruits to red wine in the slow cooker. We started using apple juice instead of wine for a sweeter taste, and kids can enjoy it too!

Save money

As Canadians, we are known for conversing about the weather. I’ve read numerous articles about Canadians checking the daily weather report more than people in any other country. It’s no wonder why elevator chit chat with strangers is based on current precipitation expectations. Use this to your benefit, and as a reason to stay inside and blob out—save money, do nothing.


Be a good dog daddy and put some mittens on your pup if it is having a hard time on the ice or salt. It may hate it now, but it may save you a bit in vet bills later on. If you’re a cat person, don’t lock your cat outside, that’s just cold.

Enjoy it

As much as you may want to complain about the cold, appreciate it while it’s here. Try skating down the largest ice skating rink in the world—the Rideau Canal. Nothing screams “Canadian” like skating to work if it works for you logistically. If falling on your elbows on ice doesn’t tickle your fancy, give snowshoeing a go. It’s slightly more exhausting than walking but much more of an experience. You could always hit the ski slopes too. Boiling a hot pot full of water and throwing it into -20 degree air is also a good time if science is more your specialty.

Be late for work

Snow is a clever devil. So is ice. In many countries, or even Vancouver, people stay home from work or school because of the temperature and the snow. If you’re worried about the commute—tell your boss. Most of them should understand it is treacherous trickery to meander down a frozen highway. If you get to work late, tell them the buses were late—they probably were, whether you’re lying or not.


Utilize your fireplace and if you don’t have one, turn on the fireplace channel to create a warm, effortless atmosphere without having to forage for timber.