When my English boyfriend Lee got a working visa for Canada and we mentioned to our Canadian friends that we planned to settle down and spend the winter in Newfoundland, after traveling my home country from coast to coast, the response was always the same, “Are you crazy?”
Winter in Newfoundland, a remote island off the East Coast of Canada, conjures up images of freezing Atlantic winds, ten foot snow drifts and frozen lakes. Everyone was baffled as to why we wanted to voluntarily spend the coldest months of the year in this rugged location when we could have enjoyed a milder winter by flying back to the west coast of British Columbia.
However, we weren’t fazed by the impending snowstorms one bit. We wanted to visit Newfoundland, Lee had a job offer in St. John’s and we weren’t going to let a little weather stop us. Growing up in Alberta, I had experience with severe winters and knew how to handle them. Besides, it seems a bit pointless to spend a year working abroad in Canada and try to avoid winter as much as possible. Winter and snowy weather is such an important part of Canadian culture and the national psyche. Trying to hide from winter during a year in Canada would be like visiting Australia and avoiding the beaches and the heat.
So Lee got the job on his Canada work permit and we settled down in a little house near St. John’s in November, just in time to hunker down before the cold began to set in. We were ready for the full experience of a Canadian winter and everything that it could throw at us.
Oh and it certainly had a lot to throw. I am used to crisp and dry prairie winters and I was surprised by the sheer amount of freezing precipitation which was hurled violently in our direction by fierce Atlantic storms. The power went out at our house numerous times, as a result of strong winds blowing over the lines. The winter weather came on so suddenly that one night we fell asleep with grass on the ground and the next morning we awoke with a foot of snow blanketing everything in sight.
The climate of Newfoundland, much like the culture and the cuisine, is ruled by the sea. This makes it one of the stormiest and windiest parts of North America. I’ll never forget the night when I was walking home from the gym during a snowstorm and a gust of wind actually pushed me over and sent me toppling into a ditch. Well played, Mother Nature, well played.
Lee, having only experienced the somewhat boring mild and rainy dreariness of a British winter, was in awe of this swirling snow globe of freezing white particles he now found himself in. He set off to work like an intrepid explorer, bundled up in two pairs of pants, waterproof gloves, a balaclava and even my swimming goggles to keep the snowflakes out of his eyes. Every time a fresh storm roared in and dumped more snow on us, he looked out the window with eyes wide in amazement.
The thing is that by the time most Canadians become adults, they have gotten incredibly fed up with snow. We used to find it exciting when we were kids, but with age it becomes associated with shoveling the driveway and delays on the roadway rather than tobogganing and hot chocolate. We whine and moan about the snow and how cold it is and we walk around with our heads down and our scarves wrapped tightly around our faces in a dismal winter funk.
It sometimes takes seeing the snow through the eyes of a foreigner to appreciate it again. Lee made me film him as he belly-flopped off the back porch into a deep snowdrift. When I wasn’t looking, he gathered up fresh handfuls of the icy white stuff and threw them at me. He reminded me that winter can be lots of fun and that you are never too old to play in the snow.
Speaking of having fun, the only thing more surprising than the height of the snowdrifts was how incredibly welcoming the people of Newfoundland were. They are known colloquially as “Newfies” and the rest of Canada believes a great number of stereotypes about the inhabitants of this island, including that they are all redneck fishermen who drink way too much rum and love to party.
While of course this is not true, it is worth nothing that Newfoundlanders consume more alcoholic beverages than any other province in Canada so it is definitely a cultural experience to enjoy a shot of “screech” (the local rum) while you are there.
One of the things that I had heard the most about Newfoundlanders was that they were very friendly and welcoming and I wondered if this was true or an exaggeration. I was not disappointed, as we met some wonderful people who welcomed us onto the “Rock” with big smiles. They gave us shots of rum, home cooked fried moose meat, futons to sleep on, tours of the city, tips on where to go and so much more. They were down to earth and fun-loving and definitely knew how to party. If you spend any time in Newfoundland, you are sure to meet some people who will embrace you like you are a long lost family member, even though you won’t be able to understand a word they are saying through their thick accents.
From the stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean at the top of Signal Hill to the raucous nightlife of George Street to the grazing herd of Caribou we spotted while hiking in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland continued to surprise us and delight us during our four chilly months there. It turns out that we weren’t crazy at all for spending the winter in Newfoundland and that it was totally worth braving the snow and ice to find the warmth hidden underneath.
Kelly Dunning is a writer for Global Visas, the world’s leading authority on immigration and working holiday visas. Last year she and her English boyfriend traveled across her home country of Canada, a journey which enabled her to see her homeland through fresh eyes. To learn more about how you can obtain a working visa and spend a year in Canada, visit Global Visas today.