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By Diana Alandete

I want to tell you about some tips on how to enjoy the outdoors in Canada, and to keep safe during the winter months.

Winter is one of the most beautiful seasons that I enjoy here in Canada.  We do not have winter, snow, or this kind of freezing cold temperatures in my old country Colombia.

To see the snow falling is a wonderful feeling that I never experienced before, and to have the pleasure of enjoying the gorgeous scenery of nature, frozen lakes, and trees covered with snow, gives me the most amazing feeling of connection to Mother Nature.

There are so many winter activities that people here in Canada enjoy doing that I was not aware of before.  I had the opportunity to witness some of them, and I have seen other people enjoying them as well.  Some friends also told me about their experiences doing ice fishing, and building “quinzees” with a pile of snow.

I recently visited Orangeville and Barrie Ontario, and saw people ice fishing in both places. I did not go to fish though, I just went for a walk to see the beautiful scenery and to take pictures.  There were little blue houses built out of wood (ice huts), and they were placed on top of the frozen lake.  It is amazing to see the transformation of the same lake in the summer months, when people are using canoes, and the dramatic contrast in winter when they are walking on top of the same lake doing ice fishing.

I also talked to a Latin lady friend who went to do ice fishing some days ago with her children, and she told me that after four hours of waiting inside of one of the ice huts, they were able to catch a few fish, however, she was disappointed that she had to return them right away to the water.

She said that the children had a fantastic first time ice fishing, and it was great to know and experience the art of ice fishing in Canada, although she said that she was very cold.  Her children said that they want to come back to do ice fishing again, but Mom is not sure about that.  When I passed by Barrie, I also saw people ice fishing on the frozen lake. It was very cold and snowing a lot, but people continue doing it anyway.  It looks like they were having fun!

Another amazing winter activity that another friend told me that they love to do with their children in winter, is to build a “quinzee” when there is lots of snow.

I did not know what a quinzee was, as I thought they were referring to an igloo,  however they explained me that a quinzee, is a word of Athabascan origin (First Nations language family from the West of the continent), which is one of the many words English has adopted in from other languages.  They explained to me as well that the difference between a quinzee and an igloo, is one of construction; an igloo is a shelter made out of bricks of snow, while a quinzee is a pile of snow that is carved out.


I feel that building a quinzee, must be an amazing winter activity to do with your children.  I am positive that the children will remember this wonderful experience shared with the parents for the rest of their lives, and they will want to relive this same activity once they grow up and share it with their own children.  It is a good legacy full of fun to pass along to the next generation.

I got caught in a snow storm with extreme cold weather temperatures on January 28, 2019 after I got out of work.  My car was completely covered with snow as you can see in the attached picture.  I was alone, and I started to remove the snow off my car, and after that, the driving to go back home was very difficult.  My car was fully equipped with a good set of winter tires, full tank of gasoline, several containers of windshield washer fluid, a strong metal shovel, an extra winter jacket, and blankets, in order to be prepared for such kind of storms.

There was lots of snow falling in that moment and I was scared because I was in a different city, and I had to drive back to my home, as the next day I had to go to work in another city.   It was not easy to drive in the snow storm.  I saw other cars skidding on the road.  Thankfully I made it home safe after 3 hours of struggling on the road, something that normally would take only one hour.  I could not see the traffic lanes on the road, so I just tried to follow the other cars.

The next day, I had to clean the snow off my car all over again, as the storm continued falling the whole night until next day.  I also had to clear a mountain of snow, which the snowplow left piled behind my car, and I was unable to get out of my parking spot to go to work.

A Colombian friend from the same building where I live, came to help me, and we shoveled the snow together, and I was finally able to get out of the driveway to go to work.

As a result of being outside for so long clearing the snow, and breathing the extreme freezing air (minus 33 below zero), I suffered some consequences.  I got sick with a flu and bronchitis, and I have been trying to recover for 15 days.  I lost my voice completely, I had lots of coughing, and I could not go to work for several days.  I realized that the cold for me is fine, and I am able to adapt and feel comfortable when temperatures are around minus 10 or minus 13 degrees Celsius maximum, however when the temperatures go lower than that, in the minus 20 to 38 with the wind chill factor, my body really feels it, and when I breath in the freezing cold air, it affects my lungs.

A good tip that I practice when the temperature is extremely cold, is to avoid breathing in the cold air.  I cover my nose and mouth with a scarf to keep breathing warmer air, which always helps me, however, when I was clearing off the snow, I was unable to keep my scarf in place.  I inhaled the freezing temperatures for around 45 minutes – see link below:



I found out that some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat, colds, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia, are triggered or worsened by extreme cold weather temperatures, and that is why it is so important to practice some winter preventive measures.

For example, one of the best ways to prevent getting flu is to get the flu vaccine, which gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.

If you are over 65 or have a long term health condition, you are also eligible for the pneumococcal vaccine, which provides protection against pneumonia.  In order to find out more information about prevention of winter illnesses, follow this link to a good video.

It is also important to learn how to keep the body warm by layering the clothing.  I use lots of layers, at least four or five different layers is good for me.  I wear a t-shirt, blouse, warm sweater, and warm wool jacket, one winter jacket zipped up, scarf, gloves, hat, double pants, double socks, and a good pair of winter boots.  Learn more about how to dress for winter in this video.

If the temperatures are extremely cold and there are cold weather alerts, it is important not to leave skin exposed.  This could cause different kind of injuries; freezing injuries, and hypothermia which is the most serious.  See link below about health effects of exposure to extreme cold:


Another very important tip, is to keep checking the news and the weather channels on the television, or on the websites, in order to monitor daily updates and the forecast https://www.theweathernetwork.com/ca/weather/ontario/toronto/

They always keep us informed on how the weather is going to be during the day and the following days.  They also show the exact temperature in the area, including the wind chill factor as well, which makes the temperature even colder.  They alert us when there is an extreme cold warning as shown in the attached picture.  They also let us know if the schools are closed because of the weather conditions.

If you see that the temperatures are extremely cold, and the weather channels are showing red alerts about the extreme cold weather warnings, and/or freezing rain, it is better to try to stay home in a warm environment, covered with warm blankets, sipping a warm hot chocolate, and having lots of warm teas and hot soups.   Enjoy indoor activities instead, such as; watching movies, indoor games, reading a nice book or magazine, sharing conversations with family members and friends, and enjoying a nice homemade meal together.

The snow storms or freezing rain, usually last one or two days, and the extreme cold warnings may last a few days, however after that, the temperatures will go back to seasonal winter ranges, and we can go out again and continue enjoying the outdoors and the fascinating winter season, because the Spring and Summer months will come back soon!