In coldness we trust

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“If some countries have too much history, Canada has too much geography,” former Prime Minister Mackenzie King said in a 1936 House of Commons speech.

Fast forward to 2019: Canada is still big, and, while we’ve gained 83 years of history since King’s words, the question of what constitutes Canadian identity is still debated.

What does it mean to be Canadian? Is it waiting in long drive-through lines for crappy coffee at the house of our lord and saviour, Tim Hortons? (Hallowed be thy name.) Or maybe it’s consuming a mountain of fries smothered in gravy and curdled milk, and surviving the ensuing stomach ache?

In my opinion, there’s something that unites us even more—the cold.

I grew up in Saskatchewan. In the winter, minus 30 degrees was normal. Sometimes, the temperature pushed minus 50 degrees. While we didn’t necessarily enjoy the cold, and small talk often began and ended with cursing it, surviving the weather was a point of pride.

For the last five years, I’ve lived on Vancouver Island. While the parameters of “cold” are much different here (if the temperature reaches zero and it snows, expect school closures, the stoppage of garbage collection, and general hysteria), people also have pride. Here’s an experiment to try that will help prove my point: tell a lifelong Nanaimo resident that, compared to other parts of Canada, winters don’t really exist on Vancouver Island, and record their defensiveness on a scale of one to 10.

Anywhere in Canada, flip on the local news during a cold snap and be prepared for non-stop weather reports and shots of streets blustering with snow. Of course, keeping the public updated about potentially dangerous weather is a matter of safety. But it goes deeper than that. Coldness is ingrained in our collective identity, which might explain one of the strangest, logic-defying phenomena: Canadians who walk to 7-Eleven in the winter to buy Slurpees.