winter dogsled

This painting by Paul Kane shows a favourite form of Métis winter travel (courtesy ROM/912.1.48).

What’s more Canadian than winter? From coast to coast, Canadians experience the highs and lows of the season, from scraping ice off a car to making snow angels to singing holiday tunes and huddling around a fire while a blizzard swirls wildly outdoors. From early settlers to present day, winter has shaped the Canadian way of life, and this year it gets special treatment from the editors of The Canadian Encyclopedia, who have written a bundle of articles on the subject. Here, we highlight just a few of our winter favourites.


Although Canadian songwriter Gene Maclellan’s “Snowbird” was recorded more than a hundred times by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Perry Como, it was fellow Canadian Anne Murray who struck gold with her 1969 rendition. The single became a #1 hit in Canada and the US, turning Murray into a star and “Snowbird” into a beloved Canadian classic about heartbreak, longing, and a little snowbird who spreads its wings and flies away.


The long, narrow (left) and bear paw snowshoes of the Eastern Woodland hunters were used for different snow conditions. Babiche is commonly used as lacework for snowshoes (artwork by Gordon J. Miller).


At first glance, the snowshoe looks clumsy and unwieldy, like a scuba diver’s landlocked flippers. However, the design of the snowshoe is rather ingenious. Its large surface area evenly distributes the wearer’s weight, preventing him from sinking into the snow. In early days, snowshoes were invaluable for fur traders, trappers, and hunters whose livelihood depended on moving around areas of deep snowfall. Today, snowshoes are mostly used recreationally or in competitions like the Arctic Winter Games and the Canadian Snowshoe Union, which governs the sport’s 70 clubs.

Arctic Hare

Arctic hare are widespread throughout Canadian forested areas (Corel Professional Photos).

Animals in Winter

Many critters endure the coldest months of winter without blankets, heaters, or creature comforts and live to see another spring. These formidable animals include polar bears, caribou, short-tailed weasel, birds such as ravens and the cheerful chickadees, and Arctic foxes, which has a winter coat that is good to -80º C.


Curling match at Montréal, 1855, by W.S. Hatton (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-40158).


The origins and early evolution of curling can be attributed to the Scots, who enthusiastically embraced the game and its wintry setting. The game became “official” when a group of Scots formed the Montreal Curling Club in 1807, described as the first sports club in Canada. The pioneers of curling experimented with “stones” made of iron or maple, as well as imported stones from Scotland. Today, Canada is the major home of curling and Scottish bagpipes can be heard at hundreds of curling bonspiels across the country.

Building an igloo

Contemporary Inuk man building an igloo (Corel Professional Photos).


The igloo, or snowhouse, is a winter dwelling used by Inuit across the Arctic. Built from within, the source of its strength is the key block, inserted at the top of the igloo. Because snow is insulating, the interior of an igloo can be quite comfortable and warm.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. A couple weeks ago my local paper, the Wadena News, published this quote by actor Paul Gross from the film Men With Brooms:
    “Not once, in everything I’ve done, have I ever felt the same wonder and humanity as when I’m playing the game of curling.”

    • Davina Choy

      How interesting that he’d bring in humanity into the game! I’ve heard people talk about baseball this way, but not curling. Have you played before?


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