Words by Natasha Grodzinski
When I woke up two days ago, there was frost on my neighbour’s roof. I’ve tried to deny it, tried to ignore it, but there’s no way to escape it.
Winter is coming.
And when you experience winter in Ottawa, you know you’re in for four and a half months of snow piles and frozen fingertips.
Cold weather is an undisputed part of our national identity. Evan Esar famously said, “Canada’s climate is nine months winter and three months late in the fall.” When Europeans first came to Canada, one of their biggest challenges for settlement was surviving the winter.
But we’re built for winter, aren’t we? We’re Canadians. It’s supposed to be part of our constitution to withstand the howling and biting northern winds. I find even after hundreds of years of living here, we’re still not used to it. We wait for a heated bus with shaking anticipation. We run into warm coffee shops and stamp our boots inside to rid ourselves of the snow clinging to our feet.
We huddle close, and we huddle up.
Growing up in Canada, one of the first things I learned was how to dress for winter. My first snowsuit experiences were à la A Christmas Story. I was barely able to move. Halloween turned into a game of, “What costumes can we fit over this parka?” Getting ready to go tobogganing was an olympic sport all on its own.
If summer is about shedding layers, winter is about building a bunker. It’s about burrowing yourself into wool, leather, cotton; just about anything warm you can get your hands on. More often than not, I find myself wrapped in a plaid blanket, surveying my cold student house like a weathered king surveying his barren land.
I need a good coat. That is my ultimate goal every winter. Find the coat that will keep you alive without making you look like the Michelin Man. In the 4th grade, I did not succeed in the second venture. I had a silver, puffy coat. It kept me nice and toasty for a few months before it started to bleed feathers. My friends called it The Incredible Puff CoatTM .
For most of my childhood, I wore my sister’s hand-me-downs. She was older, and growing at a much faster rate than myself (or that was until high school, when I victoriously surpassed in height.) I wore the Northern Reflections parkas for kids, the OshKosh snow pants and hats knitted by my grandmother.
As I got older, I started to buy myself coats. I went to vintage stores, to independent stores, to chains, all in the search of finding an affordable poly-wool blend to keep me safe from the elements. I find I’ve favoured ones at least two sizes too big; perfect for fitting as many layers underneath them as I can. During my second year of university, I wore a men’s coat for the winter, one found after an hour of digging in Value Village. It had a hole in the lining and cost me $20. Every time I put it on I felt like Humphrey Bogart.
Usually, the coats I buy are black. I’m unsure if it’s a colour preference, or if I’m obsessed with looking like a vampire. There I go, lumbering down Bank Street in the middle of a snow storm: black coat, white hair and pale face.
Every coat I’ve owned, I’ve loved. Even the puffy coat. They represent a timeline of my winters in Canada, and when I remember the coat, I remember events associated with it. That thick peacoat was the one I wore my first winter away from home. That parka was the one I brought to Sault Ste. Marie with me. In the process of keeping myself warm, I’ve created a lineage of outerwear.
And while I do not necessarily love winter (for me, it just lasts too damn long), I love my coats. This coming winter, I have a calf-length wool peacoat. Of course, it’s black. When I see frost again, I will be ready for it. Grudgingly so, maybe, but I’ll be ready.