canada-in-winter

The truth: What it’s really like visiting Quebec, Canada in winter

There are many ways to describe Canada in winter, but the first words that spring to mind are cold, icy, and above all, FUN! We had a couple of weeks’ holiday to take at the beginning of February 2015 and despite it being the heart of winter, we knew that Quebec, Canada was next on our list. Sure, we could have taken a relaxing couple of weeks under the sun in the Caribbean, but who likes an easy life, right?

Actually, with almost half the year classed as ‘winter weather’ in Quebec, we wanted to see the region for what it really is. After all, what is a bit of snow?

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What is the weather really like in winter in Quebec, Canada?

There is no way to describe it, besides freezing! February, it was one of the coldest months of the year and we experienced temperatures as low as -34°c near Lac Saint-Jean. Temperatures were not as low in Montreal and Ottawa (about -20°c), but still cold enough to make you want to run on the spot.

Surprisingly, we dare say that the weather is not that bad with the right clothing. Unlike the humid kind of cold we get here in Europe, the air is much drier in Canada and it makes the temperatures much more bearable. For example, -17°c was almost pleasant in Montreal and when there is not much wind, you can cope with even colder temperatures quite easily.

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“Not that bad” they say…

Yet the wind is something that you really need to take into account when reading the weather forecast. You will notice that there is a big difference between the actual temperature and the ‘feels like’ temperature, which is highly influenced by the wind. In general, we felt that snow and blizzard days were much colder.

What kind of winter clothing do you need in Quebec?

Whether you are in Montreal or in the north of the Quebec region, you will need warm clothing to survive your trip. Unfortunately, that does mean investing a bit of money, but you can buy affordable winter wear and sell everything at the end of your trip.

There are 2 ways to go about buying your winter clothes for Canada: either you buy everything before you leave, or you buy your clothes as soon as you get there. Personally, we went for the former option and bought everything we needed in France. Although clothing would have been better quality and better adapted to the weather in Canada, we found it to be slightly expensive for such short-term use.

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Our Canada winter kit list:

2x Thermal trousers

2x Long-sleeved thermal t-shirts

2 pairs of jeans

2 wooly jumpers

1 fleece

More t-shirts for layering

1 pair of winter boots

Several pairs of thermal socks

1 hat

1 scarf/snood

1 ski jacket

Overall, we were pleased with our purchases

We had access to a washing machine half way through the trip, so we didn’t need to buy too much stuff. It also meant that we didn’t need to bring a huge suitcase.

Overall we were quite happy with our purchases and the kit list in general. We bought good quality ski jackets in the French sales (RRP 300 euros, we paid 150 euros each) and we asked for thermals for Christmas gifts. You can buy thermal clothing from any sports shop, but we also got some from Damart. The level 5 was very, very warm with a pair of jeans on top.

We bought our boots from Decathlon for a bargain price of 35 euros each and they were warm enough for our needs (basically, they are après-ski boots). We were also extremely pleased with our fleeces from Decathlon because they have very high necks – probably one of our saviors on the trip!

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Winter clothing regrets

  • Freckles’ hat was not warm enough. We quickly found out that you need to carefully look at the knit structure of woolen products. In this instance, there were big holes in the hat and the wind just went right through it. Luckily we had another hat, which was fine with the hood up too.
  • Gaping holes was also a problem with scarves. We would strongly advise going for a snood over a scarf because there is less chance of any wind getting through the fold. Also, choose fleece because it is much warmer (the same goes for hats).
  • Get mittens rather than gloves. Freckles had both but definitely preferred having mittens. If it’s extra cold you can put mittens over gloves.
  • We would have preferred more fleece jumpers over wooly jumpers because they are much warmer.

As you can see, there is a trend with the fleece…

Winter activities in Quebec

Visiting cities such as Montreal, Ottawa and Quebec is really different in winter because you can miss out on a lot of stuff that is buried under the snow. However, the weather conditions also open up a whole host of activities you would never be able to do in summer…

Go dog sledding near Anse Saint-Jean

This was one of our favourite activities in Quebec! Our guest house host helped us organise a last-minute excursion with a company called ‘Entre Chien et Loup’. We had done a bit of research beforehand and we were very pleased with the experience overall.

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The dogs are kept under excellent conditions at Entre Chien et Loup and the staff are really friendly. You can tell that although they run it as a business, they are genuinely passionate about the dogs and sledding. For example, our guide explained to us that if they can see that the dog just doesn’t want to work and pull the sled, they move them onto families rather than make them carry on with something they don’t enjoy.

There was only us two and the guide for our half-day excursion, so we got really involved in preparing the dogs and we also got a lot of time to ask some questions. What’s more, Frog got to drive his own sled, while Freckles shared with the guide. We were quite surprised that they just let you drive your own!

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One of the husky puppies that followed us! Cuteness overload:

A really important point is that they provide you with the necessary warm clothing, so there really isn’t any need to invest in any waterproof trousers or anything for this activity. In all, it cost us about 200 CAD to go dog sledding.

Attend the winter carnival in Quebec City

The winter Carnival in Quebec City is a must-do for anyone in the area. You pay about 15 dollars for a badge, then you get access to all of the activities.

We did a bit of marshmallow roasting, went down a huge ice slide and watch the infamous parade. We also learnt how to do ice fishing, which we actually felt a bit guilty about afterward…maybe we really are slowly turning into vegetarians/vegans.

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Still can’t get over the ‘Bain de Neige’

But strangely, our absolute highlight had to be the Bain de Neige, which means ‘Snow Bath’. It was basically a load of people dancing half-naked in their swimwear, hats and snow boots. Crazy. Those people have guts.

Ice skate on the canals in Ottawa

Ok, so Ottawa is not officially in Quebec, but if you happen to be there, you can’t NOT go ice skating on the canals. You can rent skates or bring your own and skate for miles! When you’re finished, don’t miss out on buying a delicious sugar-loaded beaver tail.

Walk on frozen lakes and rivers

This really should not have been as exciting as it actually was! Being from countries where the temperature does not really go below 0°c, we had never actually seen a frozen lake or river before, never mind walked on one. Even if you’re not as easily impressed, take time to consider that Lac Saint-Jean is a huge 44km long, and yes, it is frozen in winter!

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Visit the fishing cabins

You can often see little fishing cabins on the frozen lakes in Quebec. Some people actually take their own, but tourists can also rent one for half a day. Unfortunately, we visited on the only non-fishing day of the week, but Frog did work up the courage to knock on a door and ask if we could have a look inside. I guess they are all different, but the one we went into was very basic with a bed and a wood stove to heat and cook. In the middle was the infamous fishing hole covered with a plank of wood.

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Buy local maple syrup direct from the producer

Almost half the price of what you pay in the big cities, buying maple syrup direct from the producer is not only fun, it is also a lot cheaper. We had seen quite a few signs during the trip but didn’t actually try to buy any until right at the end, and of course, we struggled to find a producer then! We hit lucky and asked a farm if they knew of anywhere and it turned out that they also sold some. We got to try maple syrup, maple butter and some kind of honeycomb that was delicious!

Rent ski bikes

We didn’t actually rent ski bikes in Quebec, but there are many people that do. You can find ski bike centers all over the place and then take them far and wide! In fact, there are some restaurants that have ski bike parking places and when you’re driving a car you often see them whip across the road.

Have lunch at a sugar shack

We really, really, really wanted to have lunch in a sugar shack in Quebec but it is too early in February. We asked around a few times, but the majority of shacks were just getting ready for the sugar shack season which starts in March. Gutted.

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So, is visiting Quebec a good idea in winter?

Overall we had an amazing time in Quebec and we would go back in a heartbeat, even in winter. After all, we have our super warm coats now! But maybe next time we will test out the Eastern Townships on the other side of the Saint Lawrence River. That looks like fun too!

Until then, keep an eye out for our full Quebec road trip itinerary should you ever decide to go on your own Canadian adventure!

Have you ever been on a winter holiday in Canada? We would love to hear about it in the comments!

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