Your Sunday Sermon: You call THIS cold?

Edmonton, the city I have called home since birth, has a love-hate relationship with winter.

One the one hand, we hate it. It’s cold, it’s dark 15 hours of the day, and it’s long. Good God, is it long.

On the other hand, we sort-of love winter because it shows how tough we are. It is inextricably linked to Edmonton’s self-image. With some exceptions, no matter where else you live in North America, we can top cold weather bragging. In fact, we can get downright smug about it, too, which is not a good feature on a person, much less a city.

Yes, here in the most northerly major city on the continent we wear shorts when the winter temperature creeps above +5C. Yes, we carry on with our lives in temperatures that would lay waste to entire populations elsewhere in the world – including Canada (right, Victoria?).

See? Smug, right?

But let’s be honest, Edmonton. We’re living on reputation, like the Edmonton Oilers. The fact is, we are not the winter city that we used to be.

As evidence, I present the cold snap we had in the last couple of weeks in December. We could barely handle it.

When the temperature started to fall into the mid-minus 20s, the Alberta Motor Association was overwhelmed with calls. At the peak of the cold snap, you would have to wait five hours or more for a boost, maybe 16 hours for a full tow.

Now, any self-respecting Edmontonian knows – or should know – that if you leave your car outside overnight when it’s cold, plug it in. (For the benefit of non-Canadians reading this, we don’t all have electric cars here. We have block heaters to keep the engine oil warm, which only work if you plug them in.) Clearly, there were a ridiculous number of people who don’t know this basic rule of winter driving in Edmonton, probably because genuine cold snaps like the one we had are now so rare that “plugging in your car” sounds like something great-grandpa used to do, like putting your horse in the barn overnight.

And whatever happened to booster cables? Time was that if you couldn’t get your car going, there would be a least a dozen guys in your neighbourhood who had booster cables, and knew how to use them. It was a manly, Edmonton thing to do. Alas, it appears that manly things – like boosting a battery or changing a tire on your own – are now outside the scope of the average Edmonton man (or, to be ‘inclusive’, woman).*

We truly wimped out on New Year’s Eve, when the city of Edmonton, for the first time ever, cancelled its outdoor celebrations. Cancelled? Because of the cold? What are we, Ottawa? Winnipeg, where the temperature never rises above -18 for six months of the year, carried on in the cold. But not here. Not that I would have gone out in the cold to watch 12 minutes of fireworks, but cancelling the outdoor event was a very non-Canadian thing to do.

Old people (and I grudgingly admit that I am in that category, in the ‘young-old’ or ‘junior-senior’ demographic) will tell you that winters here used to be much, much colder. And I frankly don’t care if that is statistically true or not – I feel that it is true, so it is. I would put on my Stanfield’s in November and leave them on until March, or until they became too rank to wear.

As proof of how much colder Edmonton used to be, look here.

ScanThis is my personal certificate that shows that I Was There for Edmonton’s all-time record cold snap. It was in the winter of ’69 (which sounds like a rejected Bryan Adams song title). I was 13 going on 14 (also a rejected Bryan Adams song title). The cold snap lasted from Jan. 7 to Feb. 1, 26 days where the temperature did not rise above 0 Fahrenheit. (For the benefit of any younger readers out there, Fahrenheit was a temperature scale that we used at the time that today is used only be a handful of primitive countries, like Belize, Palau, and the United States.) To put the cold snap into modern terminology (0F is -18C), it was 26 days where the temperature never rose above -21C; the coldest was -39C. And did we shut down schools? No, sadly. I was 13 going on 14, and I prayed on a nightly basis for the temperature to fall to -40F (-40C), which was the unofficial school closure day. So not only did we survive brutal cold for 26 days, we still had to go to school!

Scan 2
The official cold snap temperatures, in something called Fahrenheit. They were recorded at the ‘industrial’ airport, later the ‘municipal’ airport, later gone.

To be entirely honest, I would take 26 days of -18C weather over the brutal two or three day blizzards easterners endure two or three days a year. When it’s cold, you can still go about your daily life (if you PLUG IN YOUR CAR!). Heavy snowfall makes life that much more unbearable, which is why I still prefer the brutal cold to mammoth snowfall.

As I write this, the sun is shining and it’s 4C. By Wednesday, however, we’re anticipating a low of -28C. Combines with an expected 5-10 cm of snow, on Tuesday, Edmonton will almost be crippled. We’re just not as cold as we used to be, and I say … bring it on, wimpy winter.

* Mea culpa: I don’t know how to do either. Somewhere in my garage I have a set of booster cables, or at least I think that’s what they are. It’s a tangle of cables, with a couple of clampy things on either end. I don’t know where I got it, since I would never buy anything like this, and I certainly don’t know how to use them. As far as I know, if you do it wrong, you will fry your car’s entire electrical system, which I most certainly would do. But, in my defense, I’m kind of a wimp. I’ve been an AMA member since 1990, so the manliness of simple car maintenance has been sucked out of me.



Jerry Van Dyke, 86, comic actor and brother of Dick Van Dyke. Jerry was a regular on the long-running sitcom Coach, and more infamously was the star of the legendarily stupid sitcom My Mother the Car … Bruce Hood, 81, former NHL referee … Jim Shaw, 60, former CEO of Shaw Communications.