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Canadian Prairie Winter: A Jamaican’s First Part 1

Canadian Prairie Winter - winter trees covered in snow on the side of the road.

I didn’t expect my first Canadian Prairie winter to be a walk in the park, but I did not expect it to arrive so early nor kick my butt so thoroughly in the first half. After being locked in a deep freeze for over a week (-20°C and lower), I’ve got to say I am on the brink of madness and slightly glad the rest of North America is sharing the distress.

The Canadian Prairies are in western Canada and include the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (listed west to east), and the Great Plains. I live in Saskatchewan, where I first landed in very late spring. That first week, my migraines rose with a vengeance, but luckily, it warmed soon after and as summer abolished spring completely, it cause my migraines to go away with it. Summer was absolutely beautiful. Everything was lush and green, and the heat though sometimes more muggy and stagnant than I am used to, was mostly tolerable. The thunderstorms are wonderful, especially at night, but the are sprinkled with tornado warnings and my friends, those scared the full islander out of me.

And then came the winter. The infamous Canadian Prairie winter. My entire introduction to everyone I meet consists of rounded eyes and knowing smirks when they learn I moved to Saskatchewan from Ontario, but they quickly turn to genuine concern when I mention that I’m really from Jamaica and brand spanking new to Canada. As best they could, it seemed everyone I met tried to prepare me for what winter will be like. As if a born-and-bred Caribbean islander could possibly be prepared for -30°C weather. I promise you my Canadian friends, no matter what you describe, our brain cannot compute it without actually feeling it.

My Canadian Prairie Winter Experience

Let’s do a month-by-month play, shall we?

Snow in October – The First Blow

Fall lasted all of 2.5 seconds. It was over as soon as it began (for me). It was pretty warm up to mid September, with the latter part of the month sporting warmer days and cooler nights. I was excited. I’d waited all year for this and looked forward to watching the leaves change colour and fall off and the cooler crisp but not to cold air. To my dismay, however, before the leaves could fully change their colour, in swept a snowstorm that took any remaining dregs of heat and expeditiously swept all the leaves off the trees. I’m told it doesn’t happen this early every year. I’ve concluded that it was a show-out special just for me.

As a friendly neighbourhood bus-taker, I was immediately introduced to the fact the as the warmer temperatures dissipated, so did an overwhelming number of passengers’ penchant for personal hygiene. I didn’t notice such an issue throughout the summer, but, it turned into a brutal experience that became more unbearable each day. As my comfortable commute quickly turned nightmarish, it became apparent that I would not survive doing it much longer. Ubers we’re just as bad. They carried lingering odours and sometimes the smell and hairs of dogs. Baby, no. Just… no.

When the first snow-dampened bus commute introduced me to ice slapping (and stinging) me in the face as I hauled myself from bus stop to bus stop, I reconsidered my entire existence. I banefully lamented whether I left my good-good 12 months of summer yard (home) in Jamaica and being a well cared for and loved housewife to be an independent, bus-taking, career woman in Canada with ice slapping me in the face. I can tell you this, right then, my decisions made no goddamn sense to me. Thankfully though, that was my last day on the bus.

I can tell you this, right then, my decisions made no goddamn sense to me.

Sweet November – Sour Temperatures

The arrival of November pretty much abolished above 0°C temperatures. The dance start get hot ya now. While that first snowfall back in October didn’t stick around on the ground for more than a week, it was back a few weeks later. The weather app played reverse steps, the temp bar getting bluer the further down it went. It was then that I realized, I would likely not see those above 0°C temperatures again (queue the tears for Ontario).

As I settled into the harsh reality of driving on ice and snow for the first time, realizing that the car can be sliding without my realizing it, learning what the vibrating brakes meant and dismally discovered that parallel parking, the thing that I’ve avoided doing like a plague since my first driving test way back when, was now a thing I needed to learned to do on an embankment of snow higher than the sidewalk itself. I tried to adjust and remind myself that this was just the start, while my co-workers found utter amusement in informing me that we were still, in fact, in the fall. Nuh-uh! As far as I’m concerned, when we’re talking sub-zero temps, it’s winter. Period.

I learned that snow on your car was one thing, but ice on your windows was a whole other beast and the ‘scraper’ on the end of the brush I bought to ‘scrape’ the ice, more happily ’scraped’ my windshield than it did any actual ice. I learned that Saskatchewanians despised the ‘wet cold’, instead preferring the ‘dry cold’, and the light, more manageable snow it produced. I learned it could easily be -6°C today and turn into -20°C tonight. On top of that, I learned I had to pay attention to the weather to figure out what nights (and days at work) I needed to plug in the car if I expected it to start up and move when I wanted it to. I learned I needed heated gloves or ‘hot pockets’ for anything under 10°C. That is, if I wanted to still have fingers when winter was over, because I’ve got five minutes tops outside before I could no longer feel or use them.

I also learned that a car cover is great and prevents icy windows, but every day was a decision. If I used the car cover, the command start wouldn’t work. If icy rain rather snow fell the night before and the car cover wasn’t on, that ice would stare me down like a P-Diddy GIF for 20-30 minutes on all windows, ignoring me while the car takes its sweet time warming up and I try frantically to get rid of it so I can get going. Hubby got a lesson in this himself too since I turned into a passenger princess again the second he landed.

November also brought me the gift of illness. For the first time in a decade, I had a good bout of the flu, which was fine in itself, but then, almost as though my grateful whispers for the absence of a cough were heard by ears they shouldn’t have been, I developed the nastiest cough I’ve had since 2011. I remember the exact year because it was as awful then as it was now. I knew no peace. This time though, has managed to be worse.

A Happy, but rough December

That was how how my December began. Starting dry, the cough racked by body and chest with fits of severe coughing day and night. I could barely breathe when they weren’t happening and not really at all when they were. It got worse if I drank anything cold, went outside, or dared to take a shower. And I couldn’t not go outside or take a shower, soo… do the math.

The longer it went on, the worse it got-sapping my energy and my appetite, leaving me with a sore throat, chest and nasty headaches. After a year of being by myself in Canada, those coughing fits were the first time I truly felt scared that I was on my own-wondering if I keeled over from a lack of oxygen how long it would take Boobles to notice he can’t reach me. By the end of the second week, even as the frequency of the cough declined, it started producing foul-tasting mucus and had sapped all the determination I had to fight it off sooner rather than later.

As my cough lingered, it dampened my excitement for the Christmas season. Instead of decorating and preparing for my family’s arrival – which I had been looking forward to for months, I had to make myself content with using what functional energy I had to adult. I was perpetually scrubbing the apartment down in bleach and washing sheets and blankets.

I’d say round one goes to the Prairie winter, and since we just completed the mild half, I’m literally dreading the rest.

That’s how my year is ending too. Any outings I tried to make with my family were quickly soured by coughing spells. So although I was thrilled to be with my family, I’d say round one goes to the Canadian Prairie winter. The frightening part is since we just completed the mild half, I’m literally dreading the rest. Nevertheless, I remain grateful.

So, goodbye to 2022. I celebrated my one-year anniversary in Canada and a six-month stint in Saskatchewan. I hope your year was a productive one, and your new year will be filled with blessings!

Canadian Prairie Winter 1 – Shan 0. Stay tuned for the next round. Who will it be?

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Xo, Shandean

Shandean Reid

Hi, there! I’m Shan, a heavily caffeinated Jamaican millennial content creator and communications professional in Canada. An effectual storyteller at heart, this blog is my transparent narration of life as a physician’s wife, mom, communications professional, author and anything else I need to be on a given day. I hope you like my sharing space and subscribe!

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1 COMMENT

  • trinimomindmiddle

    I cannot compute this level of cold. As a Trini I would cease to function. Kudos to you for making it thus far!!

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