Saturday, January 11, 2014


In a blog about Canada, there has to be at least one post with this title. Cold is the dominant theme this winter. There was a day in December 2013 when it was colder in Winnipeg than on Mars. By Christmas 2013, we in Ottawa had already had a nasty cold snap, and the snowbanks were already up to our waists. My husband calls this an “old-fashioned winter.” It’s very telling that full-on winter by Christmas is considered a thing of the past.

During the winters of 1975 and 1976, my two sisters and I were all in high school together. A mere three or four years previous to that, our teachers had pulled the rug out from under our elementary school education by eliminating everything we had been taught about pounds and ounces, feet and inches, and Fahrenheit. By 1976, metric was the officially-used measurement system in Canada.  

Those of us that had not been learning metric since Kindergarten were given lots of help. There were ads on TV, on the metro, and on busses, showing us how it was done. We also heard about a rule-of-thumb we could use for temperature. If it was 20 degrees Celsius, and we didn’t know what that meant, we could double the temperature and add 30. This gave us a more recognizable Fahrenheit measure of 70 degrees. It wasn’t exact, but it told us that we could expect decent summer temperatures. That method was less accurate on the negative side of the Celsius scale. But it didn’t take us long to recognize that what we used to call “zero” was terribly cold.

And then came that day in 1975 or 1976 when metric conversion didn’t matter. In Montreal that day, we reached -40: the magic temperature where the two scales meet. It was hyper cold no matter which way you looked at it. Such cold heralded an eager huddle around the radio; sure enough, my sisters and I heard those welcome words: “South Shore Protestant Regional School Board Cancelled.” That was when we got the bright idea to cross-country ski across the field to visit our mom at the CEGEP library. 

Fortunately it’s a short way. We did have  a very nice (and very fast) ski across the windy Seaway Park field, and a nice hot chocolate in the CEGEP cafeteria with our mom. But my older sister and I both got frostbite on our faces. And at that temperature we couldn’t plead innocent and claim that the conversion mixed us up.