Three steps to surviving a Kingston winter

Advice from a Vancouverite for those about to experience Ontario’s winter chill for the first time

Keeping warm in chilly Ontario.
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When choosing to attend university a five-hour flight away from where I grew up, I knew I was in for a weather change. Growing up in a temperate rainforest, I was used to what most people would classify as ‘bad’ weather: in Vancouver, it usually rains more than 150 days a year. How could a little bit of snow be much worse?

In September 2018, I flew across the country and moved into Chown Hall where I was faced with weeks of sun before winter came suddenly in November and stayed until I returned home in April. Over the course of my first year, I learned just how different Kingston’s winter was from the constant rain of my native Vancouver.

For everyone from a warmer climate who are about to learn just how cold Kingston can really be, I have a few key pieces of advice that will hopefully make the incoming season slightly more bearable.

Get real winter clothes

Back home, I thought I owned winter clothes. I had a puffy jacket for when it was cold and boots for when it snowed. I even grew up with some snow gear to go up the mountain as a kid. I moved to Kingston with a $30 winter coat that I bought at H&M in grade 11 and old boots that were worn at the heels. Back home, I’d never needed more than that.

In Vancouver, I rarely stepped outside in more than a hoodie, leggings, and a pair of running shoes. If I could deal with pouring rain in an outfit like that, Ontario winters would be fine, I thought. I was wrong, and once winter arrived it was clear that my west coast attire wasn’t going to cut it in -20 Celsius. Oh, and don’t forget about the windchill.

For those of you wondering what you’ll need by the time it starts to snow on the daily, I’d recommend some common-sense staples: a warm winter jacket is mandatory, possibly with extra room to layer clothes underneath, and boots with a strong grip that will brave patches of ice and snow. You’ll need warm socks and gloves, and probably a scarf and a hat. If you think you’re doing too much, you’re probably right on track.

Layers, layers, layers

My mom was adamant when I first left BC that I’d need multiple pairs of long underwear, both tops and bottoms. While I first thought it to be overkill, I found that I was grateful for the extra layers by the time December rolled around. On extra cold mornings, I found myself pulling on the long underwear and covering them with sweats, a jacket, and sometimes even two pairs of socks.

I quickly learned that layering my clothes was the easiest way to stay warm. Layers also allowed me to adjust to the changing weather throughout the day. I could take off my jacket once I arrived at the lecture hall or pull off my innermost layer if the afternoon sun rendered me uncomfortably warm.

I also had to adapt to layers of extra winterwear that I’d never worn before. Scarves, hats, and gloves aren’t necessary back home, but they’re wardrobe staples for Kingston. No matter how annoying I found these extra bits of clothing, I was forced to get used to them if I didn’t want my fingers and nose to freeze off. Hopefully our noses can be kept extra warm this year by the layer of a facemask.

Know your limits

My biggest piece of advice for everyone about to experience an Ontario winter for the first time is to recognize what your body can handle. While some people are naturally comfortable in the cold, no human is designed for below zero temperatures.

I made the mistake of carrying Vancouver standards across the country. Back home, there was a certain toughness associated with braving the weather. I had classmates who wore shorts year-round, because even if you were cold, it was never cold enough to physically impact your body. Kingston is different, and the piles of snow can be dangerous if you don’t take them seriously.

My new Ontario born-and-raised friends didn’t take their winters lightly, and neither should the rest of us if we want to make it through without getting frostbite. While it might sound ultra-Canadian to act tough and pretend the wind and snow doesn’t bother you, your body will thank you for bundling up.

Once you’re wearing enough of the right clothing, the first thing you should do is head outside and experience the winter wonderland that comes with an Ontario winter—there’s something truly magical about an open field of fresh, untouched snow. No matter how cold I get, I’m going to enjoy Kingston’s enchanting winters while I’m here.

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