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Oh Canada

Canadians have found a way to not only survive but thrive in -40° weather. Here are some tips and tricks for making the most of your winter trip to the Great White North.

Tim & Tails

As Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are to Americans, Tim Hortons is to Canadians. Besides good coffee and donuts, the Canadian chain offers warming soups and sandwiches, drive-thrus and convenient locations. Stop in for some quick sustenance. A bit more elusive are the flat, elongated pastries known as Beaver Tails. Stretched to look like a beaver’s tail, these fried-dough delicacies are handmade to order and served piping hot with toppings like chocolate, whipped cream, fruit, jam, caramel or cinnamon. Look for them at winter festivals or at BeaverTails’ stores, usually located in amusement parks or major tourist thoroughfares (on the main street of Banff, Old Town Quebec and Whistler). 

Rideau Skateway

A few tips for those heading to Winterlude and a skating spin on Ottawa’s famed frozen canal:

  • Red flags mean the Skateway is closed, while green indicates open.
  • Skate rentals and boot check are available from three different locations on the Skateway: Dows Lake, Mackenzie King Bridge and at the end of Fifth St. on the canal.
  • Most skaters wear hat, gloves, jackets and pants that allow mobility and keep you dry
  • Wobbly skaters might consider wrist guards, helmet and elbow and knee protectors

Outwitting the Cold

If you plan to spend some time outside in the Canadian winter:

  • Start with a moisture-wicking undergarment next to your skin in case you sweat. Cotton doesn’t dry making you colder.
  • Insulating and loose layers like fleece or polyester come next
  • Top it off with water and windproof outer clothing
  • Use insulated hat, gloves, scarf and ear coverings
  • Wear wool socks under insulated, waterproof boots
  • Avoid metal earrings that get especially cold in freezing temperatures
  • Swipe some lip balm on your lips and try not lick them.

Canadian Car Rental

Travelers who plan to drive between provinces should check their rental agreement to make sure they won’t incur additional fees—some companies charge on a per-kilometer basis. Call the local rental office to confirm information instead of inquiring from a national toll-free representative who may not know local branch specifics. Winter drivers should ask for snow tires, even for SUVS, and make sure to check them before driving off the lot. Snow tires are marked with a pictograph of a peaked mountain with a snowflake. Quebec province has made snow tires mandatory for taxis and passenger vehicles in winter (Dec. 15 – Mar. 15), and they may be required in the mountains and/or national parks.

Canadian Winter Road Travel

Major highways are well maintained in Canada during the winter, but it’s still necessary to take precautions when driving in snow and ice:

  • Make sure your vehicle is equipped with proper snow tires.
  • Front-wheel drive and 4WD vehicles are recommended over rear-wheel drive for wet and slippery conditions.
  • Check for proper tire pressure, which decreases when temperatures drop.
  • Carry a windshield scraper and shovel and remove any snow and ice from the vehicle before driving. As the vehicle warms up, snow and ice dislodge to become dangerous projectiles at higher speeds, endangering other motorists.
  • Accelerate and brake slowly and leave plenty of room for stopping
  • If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with winter driving, take a cab or bus or hire a car and driver. Many hotels and most ski resorts offer shuttle service.

Low-Cost Passage to Canada

Westjet is Canada’s answer to Southwest Airlines and flies to key destinations throughout Canada. With the same friendly, no-frills approach, WestJet offers some of the best domestic deals within the country and to key points in the U.S. Winter fare specials for Canadian snowbirds to escape to sunny destinations in the U.S. may enhance your opportunities to travel north. Check their route map for destination points originating from the western, southern and northeast U.S. mainland. For more information, visit:

Winter Walkways

Canada’s main cities are well equipped for winter weather. Underground pedestrian tunnels in Toronto (PATH system/17 miles long) and Montreal (RÉSO/20 miles long) are a maze of activity below ground connecting shopping malls, metro stations, theaters, hotels, museums and more. The Plus 15 elevated walkway network in Calgary lets shoppers get from one building to the next all the way through downtown. As the world’s largest elevated climate-controlled pedestrian system, it includes 59 raised passageways suspended 15 ft. above street level, linking 100 buildings on a 16 km. (9.9 miles) walking route. Walk past restaurants, shops, department stores, theaters and office towers without ever going outside.

French or English?

Although English is spoken throughout Canada, French serves as the second official language and must be designated on all official federal paperwork, street signage and products sold within Canada. Residents of Quebec use French as their sole official and primary language, and exterior signage is only posted in French. Some communities in the province hardly speak English at all, or only as a necessity. Travelers to Quebec would do well to brush up on some French, especially if traveling out of major tourist areas. Prepare to hear a strong Quebec dialect, known as Quebec French.

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