Festivals and fun to help get through your first winter in Canada

Edana Robitaille
Published: January 21, 2024

Canadian winters are famous for frigid temperatures, snowstorms, slush, and ice and this can be daunting for prospective newcomers to Canada.

While there’s no escaping that the weather is harsh for several months of the year in much of the country (Vancouver and the surrounding area is somewhat more temperate, although rainy), some Canadians and newcomers have found ways to embrace the chill and genuinely enjoy the season.

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Get outside

It may seem counterintuitive but unless Environment Canada issues a special cold weather advisory there’s no reason to not go out and participate in outdoor activities. The only really necessary precaution is to ensure that you are wearing enough layers to stay warm. A toque, coat, thermal leggings (sometimes called long johns), thick socks, and a warm pair of snow boots go a long way.

If you have never tried skating, this could be a good time to learn. Many communities have outdoor skating areas, or you can sign up for lessons at local arenas. Skate Canada offers lessons for children and adults throughout Canada at local indoor arenas as well. You will need to wear a helmet.

If you prefer to learn on your own, some public skating arenas (also called rinks) have skating support frames that can help you keep your balance while you learn.

Skiing or snowboarding are also common winter pastimes in Canada. British Columbia and Alberta have several ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains with instructors who can help you get started. In Ontario, Blue Mountain Lodge in Collingwood is a favourite option for residents of the GTA. Mont-Tremblant is a popular choice for those in Montreal.

Tobogganing is often seen as something for children, but people of any age can, and do, enjoy coasting down snowy hills at high speeds. Some use traditional wooden or plastic sleds or you can get more advanced sleds with tracks and steering wheels. Be careful not to hit anyone on the way down the hill and be prepared for the walk back up to the top. It’s more exercise than one would expect and a good way to spend a few hours outside on a snowy day.

Festivals

There are also many festivals to enjoy throughout Canada in the winter months to make the most of the season.

Carnaval de Québec

The Carnival de Quebec takes place in Quebec City from January 25 to February 11, 2024. It is a snow festival that features snow and ice sculptures, a parade, and live musical acts. It is also when Bonhomme, the festival mascot and one of Canada’s more recognizable symbols, comes out to greet festival attendees.

Mount Pearl Frosty Festival

The Mount Pearl Frosty Festival takes place in St John’s and is touted as the largest winter festival in Atlantic Canada. It runs from February 9- 17, 2024. It features over 40 indoor and outdoor activities such as parades, dart tournaments, skating, theatre, and live musical performances.

Festival du Voyageur

Festival du Voyageur happens every year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It celebrates the city’s French-Canadian routes.

This year it takes place from February 16 until February 25 and has over 150 groups performing for all audiences, including children. Daytime entertainment includes French-Canadian fiddle music and local singer-songwriters. Evening performances feature local and national rock, indie pop and rap.

Winterlude

Winterlude is an annual festival in Ottawa that happens during the first three weeks of February.

Events include light displays, sculptures, and music to showcase the season and help festivalgoers connect with Canada’s Indigenous culture. It is also a good time to go skating on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site that, when frozen, offers 7.8km of skating.

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