Look into Canada’s Soul: Part I. Freaking Out Over Vast Time, Distance and Climatic Toughness

Summer flight over British Columbia mountains. Probably Cascades Mountains. Photo by J.Chong 2012
Summer flight over British Columbia mountains. Probably Cascades Mountains. Photo by J.Chong 2012

The more I travel across Canada and after living, in 3 different regions (Ontario, Pacific Coast in British Columbia and Alberta in Prairie heartland), the more I think I’m creeping closer into the heart of Canada’s soul. It’s been an amazing journey.

It’s a huge effort to figure out Canada at ground level: its myriad differences and similarities that bind us as a country. Yes, things hold us together –its mercurial weather patterns, daunting geography, wildlife, culture, history, politics, food, habits and quirks.

Even Canadians are sometimes freaked out over their own country’s daunting geographic distances, multiple time zones and some extreme weather conditions.

Enormous Canada Means Getting Our Act Together: 6 Time Zones
First, Canada’s huge geographic stretch across 6 different time zones, should be a clue: it’s just tougher for all of us to talk on the same page as Canadians, from Pacific to Altantic coast.

No wonder why sometimes Canadians are out of sych with one another when it comes to real-time communication. Sheesh, just organizing a business meeting in a national company means during Vancouver morning,  I had to remember to schedule meetings that didn’t spoil a Quebec colleagues’ lunch hour. It’s a 3 hr. difference.

Canada's 6 time zones. Difference of 5 hrs. between Pacific coast and Newfoundland coast by the Atlantic. The world's 24 time zones was conceived by a Canadian, Sir Sanford Fleming in 1800's. He set the Greenwich Time Line to please England when Canada was a British colony.
Canada’s 6 time zones. Difference of 5 hrs. between Pacific coast and Newfoundland coast by the Atlantic. The world’s 24 time zones was conceived by a Canadian, Sir Sanford Fleming in 1800’s. He set the Greenwich Time Line to please England when Canada was a British colony.

It’s amusing to hear some Albertans who believe the Canadian economy rests on the oil and gas industry. I’m sorry it’s a bit delusionary.

Monument marks where Alberta's oil boom started-- now, in pristine Waterton National Park, Alberta near the Canada-U.S. border. Photo by J. Chong 2012.
Monument marks where Alberta’s oil boom started in 1897– now, in pristine Waterton National Park, Alberta near the Canada-U.S. border. Photo by J. Chong 2012.

Nope. The Canadian economy rests on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) activity, which doesn’t care about time zones elsewhere in Canada. It is Ontario time, not Alberta nor British Columbia time. Even corporate lawyers for mergers and acquisitions in these provinces, aren’t dumb enough to challenge Toronto time.

When the TSX shuts down for the day, the rest of Canada must kow-tow to Eastern Standard Time and schedule their major financial trades accordingly. Oh I forgot, the TXS is in the same time zone, as the New York Stock Exchange. Have I said enough, how the North American financial world turns its dime on Eastern Standard Time?

Cycling on the Trans-Canada Highway. Vancouver Island, heading towards the Malhat, approx. 80 km. outside of Victoria BC. Photo by J.Becker 2005
Cycling on the Trans-Canada Highway. Vancouver Island, heading towards the Malhat, approx. 80 km. outside of Victoria BC. Photo by J.Becker 2005

But most of the time, for Canadians, it’s just scheduling phone calls and face time with family members and friends at mutually sane hours.

Awestruck By Daunting Distance and Time
Canadians forget their own country stretches over 8,000 km. from the Pacific to Atlantic coast. We have the world’s longest national highway –the Trans-Canada Highway, over 7,800 km. from Victoria, British Columbia to St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Just reading this distance is enough to give any Canadian a bout of jet lag. No wonder why Canadians are sleep-deprived and cranky, when they fly across their own country, never mind across the ocean to a foreign country.

Rare wooden grain elevators in vast grain fields near Cardston, Alberta. Photo by J.Becker 2013.
Rare wooden grain elevators in vast grain fields near Cardston, Alberta. Far in the background is an energy producing windmill farm. Photo by J.Becker 2013.

Weather: Regional Differences in Wierdness,Toughness and Whimpiness

Some palm trees year-round can be spotted in Vancouver. Kitslano neighbourhood. Photo by J.Chong 2012
Some palm trees year-round can be spotted in Vancouver. Kitslano neighbourhood. Photo by J.Chong 2012

Unlike the U.S., Canada doesn’t have any true tropical climate areas to complement our Arctic wintery zones. The balmiest Canadian areas are the Vancouver-Victoria area in southern British Columbia with mildest winters –except for the mountain ski areas. It’s only a 25 km. bike ride from downtown Vancouver to the ski mountains. Hence, there are a few year round palm trees in Vancouver –by Stanley Park.

You can read all the Internet weather information about Canada’s regional differences. But become a resident and you will truly learn what is considered toughing it out vs. whimpiness in one province is completely reversed in another part of Canada.

Summer Heat Differences: Pacific Coast, Prairie and Ontario
For an ex-southern Ontarian, it’s strange to hear Vancouverites and Calgarians complain about their hot summers. Are you kidding me???  Toronto summers tend to be quite humid, close to 100% humidity and hitting temp. at 25-30 degrees C. with occasional smog alerts. Cycling can be a serious effort but it does toughen you into readiness for tropical vacations in Florida or Hawai’i.

Reif Winery, few km. close to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario wine's region. Photo by J.Chong May 2013. Temperatures day of photo was nearly 28 degrees C.
Reif Winery, a few km. close to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario wine’s region. By bike path south of Niagara Falls. Photo by J.Chong May 2013. Temperature day of photo was nearly 28 degrees C.

Vancouver summers are perfectly lovely with a hint of Pacific ocean coolness in mornings. I can vouch that hill climbing on bike, is simply easier in Vancouver air compared toToronto. Meanwhile, Calgary simmers in dry summer heat no more than 25 degrees C. Calgary sun is blazingly brighter and more naked, with simply less trees in barren prairies and Calgary at 1,000 metres higher elevation, than Vancouver or Toronto.

Calgary is further north than either Vancouver and Toronto, which means going to bed at 10:00 pm in summer when it’s still sunny. In fact, there are regular local night group bike rides kicking off at 9:00 pm and not grinding to a halt until near midnight. Ok, whatever floats your bike or boat.

Snow during 2nd week of May. Not unusual in Calgary, AB. Photo by J. Chong 2014. Even toughened locals get tired of seeing snow..in spring.
Snow during 2nd week of May. Not unusual in Calgary, AB. Photo by J. Chong 2014. Even toughened locals get tired of seeing snow..in spring.

Divided by Dehumidifers, Humidifers and Lightning Storms
The heat in southern Alberta is dry enough that locals have humidifiers to ensure lovely fine wood furniture and floors stay lustrous and shiny, as well stop nosebleeds due to dried out noses. In contrast, residents in Vancouver and Toronto, are firing up home dehumidifiers during summer and winter, to suck out air moisture and prevent mold growth.

Lightning and occasional damaging hail storms, are a fact of life every Albertan summer. Except for hailstorms, equally spectacular lightning and thunder are featured in Ontario. However lightning and thunderstorms in Vancouver are so rare, that Nature’s fireworks makes local front page news. Thunderstorms don’t happen often until you venture 100 km. further inland through British Columbia.

Warm, bright autumn. Toronto ON. Photo by J. Chong. Early November 2013.
Warm, bright autumn in early November. Toronto ON. Photo by J. Chong 2013.

Cold Rain or Snow-Ice: Which Province is Tougher?
The infamous grey rain that veils Vancouver on some days during fall, winter and spring, is not that horrible. At least a drizzle doesn’t stop a lot of Vancouverites from cycling, walking or socializing outdoors under a bistro canopy with a cup of coffee or cigarette. In contrast in Toronto and Calgary, die-hard smokers are having their smoke out in -15 degree C winter freeze and wind-driven snow.

Maybe this Calgarian cyclist has studded winter bike tires on his evening commute ride homeward. Photo by J.Chong 2014.
Maybe this Calgarian cyclist has studded winter bike tires on his evening commute ride homeward. Calgary winter temperatures can drop as low as -35 degrees C, or with wind chill @ -40 degrees C. Photo by J.Chong 2014.

Calgarian regular cyclists are a tough lot when they churn on their winter studded bike tires in -20 to -30 degrees C with wind and thick snow. Yet, during a summer light drizzle rain, paved Calgary bike-pedestrian paths, are nearly devoid of people. I live near a major bike path. Whimpy, eh?

Meanwhile, more stalwart Vancouver pedestrians with umbrellas, stroll  downtown streets and cyclists spin along in their water repellant jackets or ponchos all over the city to work and other stops for their chores. These cycling folks are not athletic cyclists. Just regular folks on bikes.

But true, when it snows, Vancouver seems to grind to near halt, its commuter trains sometimes stuck at -10 degrees C because they are not fully prepared. Most definitely, I had less faith in car drivers during a Vancouver snowfall, compared to drivers in Ontario and Alberta..

Keeping or Losing My Ice Legs
When I lived in Vancouver for 8 years, it bothered me that I was losing my “ice legs” from living in Ontario for first 40 years. “Ice legs” is the ability to walk confidently across sidewalk ice and slippery winter snow without falling. Well, now that skill returned somewhat when I moved to Alberta.

Morning after a snowfall in a mountain region just west of Rocky Mountains. A popular ski area, also prone to deadly avalanches annually. Trans-Canada highway gets shut down due to snow slides at least once a yr. Golden, British Columbia. Photo by J. Chong 2014. Snow here is soft, powdery and winter hovers at -10 degrees C. Air is not as dry as Alberta mountain areas.
After a snowfall in Golden, British Columbia a popular ski and mountain bike town, west of Rocky Mountains. Area is prone is annual deadly avalanches. Trans-Canada highway gets shut down due to snow slides at least once every winter. Photo by J. Chong 2014. Snow here is soft, powdery and temperatures hovers at only -10 to -15 degrees C. Perfect for winter sports. Air is not as dry and cold as Alberta mountain areas.

I have not yet witnessed here in Calgary or Alberta, the magic of northern lights. We are in one of the prime Canadian viewing locations –if we leave the night light pollution of the city. As for northern lights in Metro Vancouver and Toronto, just forget it. We had a dim glow from the Toronto Sky Dome and B.C. Stadium night light filtering into some of our rooms.

Now if you haven’t keeled over Canadian weather follies, or vast time and space occupied by Canada, stay tuned for Part 2 on climate and local food.

P.S.:   This post rightfully deserves to have been published on July 1st, Canada’s birthday when we became officially a country 147 years ago.  Hey, I have no expectation people care to cruise around much or at all  in blogosphere during an official summer holiday in Canada.

But yes, for all its ups and downs, I’m glad have Canada as my birth root, home and emotional touchstone.

Hamlet of Apex, just 15 km. outside of Iqualuit., Canada's most northernly capital city . On Baffin Island. Only 1 road in and out of this Arctic suburb. Now you know why people can get lost and die in a snowstorm in the Artic. No discernable landmarks, aside from buildings. Photo by J. Chong Jan. 2003. Taken at 2:30 pm.
Hamlet of Apex, just 15 km. outside of Iqualuit., Canada’s most northernly capital city in the Arctic on Baffin Island. Only 1 road in and out of this Arctic suburb. Now you know why people can get lost and die in a snowstorm in the Arctic. On open tundra, no discernable landmarks, aside from buildings. Photo by J. Chong Jan. 2003. Taken at 2:30 pm.
Jogger out for cold run in Canada's most northernly capital city (actually a town of 6,000 people) on Baffin Island where yes the Inuit live. . Photo by J. Chong. Iqaluit, territory of Nunavut, Canada 2003.
Jogger out for cold run in Iqualuit, Nunavut on Baffin Island in the far Arctic where the Inuit live. Evening was Calgary’s winter temperature @ -20 degrees C. Next day a wind-snowstorm blew through @ 180 km./hr. No planes could land nor fly for 8 hrs. Photo by J.Chong 2003.
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31 Comments Add yours

  1. Fascinating post, my friend. Really, really well done. I learned more about Canada in this post than I have in lifetime of reading. For example, I had NO idea you all had so many time zones! Fascinating stuff. Happy Canada Day!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Well, I know very little about Kentucky where you were and now Ecuador. Glad I illuminated on something.

      Like

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Wonderful tour of our vast country.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Indeed, so much to see across long distances in Canada. Just in British Columbia alone, there are lots of wonderful wilderness national and provincial parks to enjoy and wander about.

      Like

  3. Nicely written. Now, I am for sure would not want to stay in Canada as I can’t bike 365 days/yr. 🙂 What to do? I love biking.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Well, yes our winters can be hard and very cold. You and your family would love Vancouver BC –any time in July to September, the weather is good. It is never as humid as in Malayasia. The mountains are reachable..by municipal bus. There’s ocean and we have old growth large trees in our local parks. Here’s something about Vancouver that I wrote: http://www.velo-city2012blog.com/?p=2201

      If you are on the British Columbia coast, there’s kayaking or take a wilderness trip on boat and hope to see wild dolphins (I’ve seen a dozen of them around Vancouver Island..) and whales, bald eagles.. I would also recommend Montreal and Quebec City to experience French-Canadian history and culture. Have you or your family travelled outside of Asia yet?

      Like

      1. Yup, my wife and myself studied in U of Oklahoma, central US. But, I was not a bike enthusiastic during that time. It was mainly for commuting to school.

        I did quite a few traveling when i was there for 6 yrs. Been to quite a number of States and up in Canada too. Yeah.. I do like Vancouver and the weather there during summer. So-so on Toronto tho. I was staying in Seattle for 3 months too. Love the place but it is just too expensive.

        Like

  4. jbw0123 says:

    Phew! That is a lot of territory. I think the wine country region might be the one for me. I agree- the more we see of the world, the more complex, fascinating and humbling it seems. Happy travels! Also, happy belated Canada Day!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      May your July 4th national birthday be a good one also, jbw. Humbling is the right word for ranging the world.

      Like

  5. Great post, Jean – you clarified so many things about Canada that I “sort of” knew. Lovely photos too, especially the May snowstorm. In many ways, the variations of climate from east to west is similar to the middle to north sections of the US. But 6 time zones? That’s a lot to deal with!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Seattle weather is similar to Vancouver BC weather –just 200 km. south of us. So make the geographic stretch across northern U.S. in many ways similar to southern Canada. Good to hear from you composer in the garden.

      Like

  6. Lani says:

    Happy Canada Day! Thanks for sharing so much about your beautiful country. For some reason, while overseas, my bestest friends have been Canadian 😉 xxoo

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      But Canada does not have quite the same exotic, tropical flavour at all like Thailand. Glad you have some great friends/comrades. 🙂

      Like

  7. Rita Azar says:

    What a beautiful country we have and what an interesting post! I learned quite a few things in this post, didn’t know that you can actually witness the northern lights in Calgary or Alberta. Happy Canada Day Jean!

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Yea, I had no idea either until I lived in other parts of Canada. The more I see and experience Canada, the more I’m humbled by what our country offers or just IS. Yes, one day I’d love to see northern lights..and moose, long white hair wild mountain goats. 🙂

      Like

  8. timethief says:

    I loved your post and I love Canada. I will never choose to live in another country.Canada is number1 and the Americans can just choke on that because it’s true. 😉

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Wow defiantly loyal, timethief. Several decades I could have considered living in another country. I did apply to jobs overseas. I even got interviewed for a job in California. It was quite an experience since it was at a university. Usually those jobs require interview panels, presentation and questions from peers, etc. It’s an all-day affair. Anyway, I just ended up living in different parts of Canada instead. 🙂

      Like

  9. livelytwist says:

    Such a diverse country. Here, in (tiny) Netherlands, north, south, east, or west it’s pretty much the same. I enjoy your writing style like a cup of coffee outdoors under a bistro canopy in Toronto. I visited Toronto once in winter. It was -18 Degrees C and the snow was waist-high, what a contrast to our mostly mild winters.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      No doubt you were in mild winter shock while in Toronto at that time. -18 degrees C in Toronto is considered quite cold whereas here in Calgary it’s considered moderate winter temperature. Not overly cold –unless there is a strong wind blowing! I understand that the Netherlands might be a little like Vancouver BC with the rain, grey winters, not much snow. But probably not as much rain as Vancouver since there are old growth, tall trees with big tree trunks, etc. What is Nigeria like? The same all over the country? Hot, dry or hot, humid?

      Like

      1. livelytwist says:

        In the south of Nigeria where I grew up, it is hot, humid, and rainy season can seem like forever. Up north, it is dryer and not as humid.

        Like

  10. Wonderfully entertaining and informative post, Jean– thank you! Your usual excellent commentary and photos, as well. One forgets how vast and diverse Canada is! Thanks to you and Ian & Sylvia’s very evocative recordings, Canada has, I believe, achieved truly mythic status!!

    Hey, and I liked that great smiling close-up shot of you on your bike– thanks for including that!! : )

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Ah, a Tyson fan. 4 strong winds that blow… As you can appreciate living in a big expansive country, it certainly is mythic in physical breadth to Canadians. Even they exclaim themselves and feel lost in the big space at times. Appreciate your hop-visit here, Mark!

      Like

  11. Nice post. “Ice legs” is the new expression to add to my vocabulary! I love Quebec but in terms of winter I think I would prefer British Columbia.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Great to see you again hisbiscusjane. Well, our ice legs becomes au naturel since childhood but we can lose the “ice” footing touch. Different regions of B.C. have different winters. Best place with still lots of snow would be around Revelstoke, Golden within the interior mountain area –except they get avalanches every year and nearly annually the Trans-Canada Highway gets shuts down for a day or so in the winter. Vancouver does get a lot of rainy days during the winter but temperatures don’t go no colder than -10 degrees C or less. Thankfully I am not as affected by grey rainy days compared to other people.

      Like

  12. It’s been a while since i have been to visit your blog. Loved this last post. Makes you appreciate how small a country New Zealand is..Loved the photos too. Hope I can come to visit one day…You have a lovely writing style, really easy to read.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I’m aiming to be more readable flowersforthemoon. Not all my blog posts are that clear. Sometimes I end up exploring the side alleyway which can confuse a reader temporarily! 😀 You would be overwhelmed by the size of Canada. Our climate overall is different from Aussieland and our distances though similarily great, we’re a long linear shaped country that extends into the frigid cold north.

      Like

  13. Arti says:

    Wonderful post! You’re absolutely right about the diversity of landscapes, people, and lifestyles that Canada has to offer. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects and leaving your comment, Jean. You see, while I was in Toronto that first week of Sept. attending TIFF and visiting Ward’s Island, my home town Calgary had the snow storm of the year that cut down trees and cut off power for the whole city. I came back home to dead tree branches, broken trunks and debris everywhere. And that’s only the first week of Sept.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      I was in Calgary after T.O., thankfully just after the freak snow dump that damaged over 2,000 trees almost 2 wks. ago. I seem to avoid snow dumps, hail or rain in Calgary whenever I’m visiting another part of Canada! In the end, the whole city was not cut off from electrical power. But it was a shock and the city is still cleaning up the mess as we speak. Great thing that the municipality waived the tree debris dumping fee temporarily at the landfills. Now the fall colour leaves are coming in very quick, too quick, which is a bit sad. Time to enjoy every day of this wonderous brilliant blast of Nature’s fireworks.

      I wanted to show in this post that the Great White North, isn’t just a blank white slate of snow. 😉 Glad you enjoyed the post which I enjoyed writing and finding photos.
      (We noticed about TIFF with the hotel guests and events in downtown Toronto.)

      Like

  14. The summer weather in Toronto is a shock the temperatures soar to Indian summer level, like u said, ‘ppl imagine the Great white North to be a blank white slate of snow.’ I think autumn and spring is the best time to be there.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Autumn in Canada is lovely across the country. It is a favourite season of mine no matter where I’ve lived in Canada. I like also late spring the best in any area of Canada (late June), or early summer. Still very good…with occasional days of high humidity/heat in Toronto/southern Ontario.

      Clearly one can see that you did visit Canada in the autumn with great photos as memories.

      Liked by 1 person

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