Challenges of Winter in Canada

About two months ago I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie. A small city on the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada. The winter months here are pretty harsh. Very cold temperatures, strong winds and lots of snow. When I arrived it was -26°C cold. I had never seen winter like that before and therefore also never known how life is like under these conditions. It led to quite a few minor cultural “shocks” for me. Let me tell you about a few of them:

First, you should know that I am a very eco-conscious person. At home I try to live as sustainably as possible. My family has never owned a car and we grow our vegetables in our own garden. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep the exact same lifestyle here. I didn’t think it would be that hard or even impossible though. But it is. 

Even though Sault Ste. Marie is a pretty small town, everything is ridiculously far away compared to Switzerland. Because there is nothing outside of the city, there is no reason to save space and so everything is built rather far apart. You can’t really reach anything by foot within a reasonable time. So eighter you have your own car, a good bike or you use public transportation. As the person I am I wanted to choose public transports or a bike but that it is not as easy as it might seem. In summer a bike would work just fine, although it would still take a lot of time to get to places and would be quite dangerous on the multiple line roads. But it is -26°C outside. With this cold air you don’t want to spend more than ten minutes outside, certainly not on a bicycle. That brings me to the next problem with public transportation. The busses usually come late, which means that sometimes, you will be waiting at a station for quite a while. Again something you do not want to be doing in these temperatures. It is not only uncomfortable but also dangerous. So that leaves you with the only option of having your own car.

Even though I understand the need, it took me some time to get used to the image of 4 cars in the driveway of a single family home. To this day, it bothers me to be so dependent on a car and to not have a reasonable sustainable alternative.

Also because of the cold, the cars can’t be left outside when the engine isn’t running. Otherwise they won’t start again. So the situation arises that you walk between endless rows of running cars in a parking lot in front of the supermarket. Something I could have never imagined before coming here. 

Aside from transportation, winter also makes sustainable housekeeping difficult. There is so much snow that even winter resistant vegetables cannot be cultivated. So, if you want to eat something fresh and green, you have to buy imported vegetables. Unfortunately, the origin is not always indicated on the products, so you can’t even estimate which one has traveled the shorter distance. The products are also usually wrapped in a lot of packaging material, so that they do not freeze during transport home. This produces a lot of waste. 

The waste is difficult to separate. At least for green waste there is not really a system and even in your own garden it is impossible to dig a compost hole because of the ground frost. 

Before I came here, I was worried about the cold temperatures. I bought extra warm clothes and tried to mentally adjust to always being cold. Now, the temperatures do not even bother me when I am outside anymore. I learned to dress properly and got used to the cold air in my lungs. I really enjoy the snowy landscapes, skiing, ice fishing, skating, snowshoeing and all the other winter experiences a lot! Nevertheless, it is still the winter that has brought the biggest culture shocks for me. Because of the cold climate a sustainable life in the winter months here is, so to speak, impossible. But I’m amazed at how quickly I don’t even notice certain things anymore, like running cars. I hope that my eco-consciousness will be fully restored when I return home. 

Salome Fankhauser

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