Winter in Manitoba up here near the 51st parallel arrives sometime in late October and early November and slowly disappears by about mid to late April. That being said, it is not unheard of for winter to arrive with October (like it did this year) or hang around well into May. The severity of winter varies just as much. Last year there were extended periods of weeks at a time where our home town was under extreme cold warnings with daytime highs rarely breaking -40C (-40F). This winter’s temperatures have so far been mild with many days with the highs running in the single digit negative zone (30-16F range) with night time values dipping into the high teens (-1F). Snowfall is about midrange normal this year with three blizzards and multiple days of light flurries. The ground is covered with 20 cm (8 inches) of the white stuff in the lowest spots with drifts running well over a metres (yard) deep.
I think of the end of January as being the midpoint of winter for two reasons. First there is almost always a brief spell of relative warmth that lasts a week or two. Temperatures will get up to the freezing mark. There will be some thawing and maybe a bit of freeing rain. This is always followed by most of February dropping into the extreme cold range. It’s like Mother Nature comes up for air, takes a breath, and plunges down into the deep cold again. We are in one of those January warm spells right now.
After spending ten years of winters in the south it has been quite an experience for me to live through a Manitoba winter again. Thus far it has been far less awful than I worried about and far more pleasurable than I expected. The main reason is because being retired, if it is bitterly cold outside I just stay home. I don’t have to layer up and go outside and start a cold vehicle and leave it to warm up which my teeth chatter and I freeze. I don’t have to stand in the wind waiting for a bus to arrive because my husband’s work schedule did not overlap mine that day and it was his turn to take the car. I get to miss the worst part of winter.
The other thing that has astonished me is that winter is far prettier in a rural area. The snow stays a lovely white instead of filthy slushy brown. The trees are beautifully decorated in ice that twinkles like stars in the sunlight. Wildlife is suddenly visible in ways it has not been before because animal leave tracks everywhere. The trees are bare so you can see wondrous sights like one of Manitoba’s official provincial bird, the great grey owl on a post or red flash of a fox in a field. Sun dogs make sparkling bright lights or even rainbows beside the sun. The sky is so blue it almost hurts the eyes and the night sky is stunning in ways it never is in summer. The sun rises late and sets early so even though I am not a morning person I get to enjoy both.
The other thing I have discovered is that my community goes into high social gear in winter. We have had more socials, more dinners, more reasons to be among our neighbours this past month than over the entire summer season. I took up curling to have a reason to get out of the house and get some exercise and discovered I love it. It is a combination of luck and skill and there is few things more satisfying than that perfect two rock knock out or putting your rock “on the button”. I even splurged on myself and bought my very own pink curling broom from Canadian Tire. Twice a week I walk one block to the local curling rink and have a blast playing senior stick curling.
I decided I would not feel sorry for myself and whine and carry on about the cold. I decided I would be positive. And with that attitude I find I have actually been enjoying this winter. It has passed this approximate halfway point far more quickly than I expected. I still dread February but it begins with curling bonspiels so maybe it will be just as much fun as January has been. Some of my friends in this community have told me they prefer winter. I always thought they were crazy. I can’t say I prefer winter but I can now see why they do.