“It Was So Cold That . . .”

When The Big Chill hits Canada, things can get downright scary.

By David Phillips, senior climatologist, Environment Canada
December 14, 2015
Extra! Dec 2015 Weather

Canadians know cold.

And when they talk about it, you pay attention. These reports caught our eye, not only because they made us shiver, but also because more often than not they were prefaced with “I swear this is true.” Some of these accounts may indeed be apocryphal, but taken together, they give new meaning to the phrase “It was so cold that … .”


Several children got stuck to their playground equipment and had to be thawed off; Moosomin, Saskatchewan; December 19, 1983.


When a Winnipeg hotel caught fire, a person trapped by the flames simply poured a pitcher of water out the window and slid down the icicle; December 24, 1879.


In Kapuskasing, Ontario, tires fell off the rims of cars, January 15, 1994.


The snapping cold made sleds squeak so loudly that it scared the horses; Iroquois Falls, Ontario; January 23, 1935.


When cattle peed, they had to keep moving so that the icicles they made didn’t freeze them to the ground; southern Saskatchewan; January 1938.


Outside of town, you could hear the school bus creaking 10 to 15 minutes before it reached the driveway; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; January 1938.


Winnipeg’s old downtown Louise Bridge over the Red River shrank more than 5-½ inches; February 1, 1996.

–22° to –40°F

Lake Ontario froze hard enough for motorists to drive safely between Toronto, Ont., and Rochester, N.Y., over the lake— if the wheels on their cars would turn; February 1934. Lake Ontario has completely frozen over only twice in history: February 1934 and the winter of 1874–75.


Smoke froze in the chimney and choked out the fire, and ravens just nodded at each other rather than squawking; Rivers, Manitoba; 1948.

Frigid Factoids

  • Seawater freezes at 29°F.
  • Because mercury freezes at –38°F, alcohol is used in thermometers in colder zones. It freezes at –173°F.
  • Fifty to 70 percent of body heat is lost through the top of your head, but only if the rest of your body is covered up. (Your mother was right, as usual.) 


Reader Comments

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Northern Minnesota

It gets so cold in Minnesota that sometimes we have to light matches and thaw out the light bulbs so we can turn them off.


Just goes to show, you need a sense of humor to live in 'Cold Country'. LOL!

Ottawa 1956 or 57

I experienced 60 degrees below 0....In the hospital where I worked,we could not get the patients out of bed, and there was frost on the baseboards in the hospital.Walked home with a wool scarf over your nose in order to be able to breathe. The following year,I left for Hawaii and never returned to Canada!

Cold winter in Canada

Yes, these stories are true. I live in Alberta. Just this past December, 2017 the temperature was a crispy -43c, between Christmas and New Years. Keep your car plugged in, so the battery stays warm, keep your pets indoors, hunker down until it warms up! And it always does!

How cold is it!

I lived in northern Minnesota on the iron range. One winter it was so cold that when people talked their word's froze as they tried to speak! When the thaw came in late July the whole range area was A thunderous roar of random word's being uttered!!
I moved south to central Minnesota as I just couldn't take the cold any longer being 65 year's old. Much better here. It was only 17 below last night and tomorrow it is going to shoot up to 1 below!!

That's Pretty cold

In live in NB Canada. It gets cold here but not like those places mentioned. Ive saw -18°F or so a couple times. That's cold enough. Actually 75° is cold enough!

Salt will melt snow/ice until like 5° or 10°. So I'm not sure seawater freezes at 29°F.

It was so cold that . . .

A great list of stories about the Canadian winter! I'm sure they're all totally, 100% true because they remind me of tales my father and grandfather used to tell me about winter in "The Great White North."


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