Whenever I hear a non-Winnipegger complain about the cold, I think of the famous knife scene in Crocodile Dundee.
Aussie outbacker Mick Dundee is adrift in New York City when a mugger attacks him with a knife and demands his wallet. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I can still remember Mick’s classic line. He pulls out his own oversized Bowie-style knife, points at the would-be mugger’s puny little shiv and says: “That’s not a knife. THAT’S a knife!” He out-blades the mugger, who quickly scurries away. Manitobans think of their winters in the same terms. “You call that cold? That’s not cold. We’ll give you COLD!”
How cold is it here? It’s so-o-o cold (insert your favorite David Letterman or Johnny Carson joke here).
Winnipeg’s winters can be called “epic.” (Thus the nickname “Winterpeg.”) You can build an ice-fort on Halloween and be reasonably well assured that it won’t melt even a bit until April Fools Day. A winter’s not really a true winter if the windchill on at least one day doesn’t reach minus 50 Celsius. Extended periods (weeks and, once, an entire month) when the temperatures don’t get above minus 20 Celsius (about 10 below zero Fahrenheit) are not unusual.
But as we all know, cold is a relative term. We take refuge in the phrase: Yeah, but it’s a dry cold. And we can’t possibly be as cold as our predecessors, the people who lived here before central heating, R-40 insulation, triple-pane windows, down-filled parkas, and Thinsulate gloves. Nor are we as cold as the Arctic Circle or some places in Siberia.
Winnipeg is noted for its cold weather because it’s a major city only sixty miles north of the American border. It seems incongruous to many that a city with a world-renowned ballet company, a symphony, a theatre center, an opera company, pro hockey, football and baseball teams, etc., would be subject to such frigid temperatures for so much of the year.
To tell the truth, it only seems truly cold maybe three or four times a winter: the first really cold day in the fall, that dark morning in January when your car won’t start despite the block-heater you use to keep the motor oil warm, and the day it hits minus forty, especially if it’s at the end of a week or so of minus 30’s.
This year we had a month’s reprieve from the cold. November was mild with temperatures well above normal. But that only made the first minus 30 day in December hit with all the more impact. It felt bloody cold, a grim reminder of the ordeal ahead.
Unfortunately, Edmonton, Alberta trumped us. That same day it was minus 46.1 celsius there. That didn’t make it feel any warmer here. Or make us lose our bragging rights to coldness. They get Chinooks, the wusses!