Cities with the Most Miserable Winters, Ranked

Snowy and windy winter weather in Canada

Winter in Canada means knee-high boots, snow pants, and so many layers you can barely see your face. It means wearing gloves under your mittens and trying to stay cozy however you can. It also means being damn proud of just how miserable your city really is—and how tough its people are.

Think your town has the worst winters in Canada? Thanks to us, now you can know for sure. These are the towns with Canada’s lowest temperatures, where your eyelashes will freeze so fast you won’t know what hit you. Record snowfall? They’ve got that, too. Here’s how we came up with the darkest, snowiest, windiest, coldest cities in Canada.

– The Let It Snow icon indicates the total average snowfall. The more snowflakes, the more time you’ll spend shovelling each winter.

🌡 – This is the Frostbite Factor: the more icons a town has, the more layers are required on an average winter day.

🔥 – The Great Indoors icon rates the number of ways to stay warm, from cozy cafes to toque shops. More icons means a slightly less miserable winter.

Winter tourism in Canada is for the brave—and these cities are for the bravest of the brave. If you think you can handle it, we dare you to try.

 

20. Terrace, BC


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥


Terrace may not get as chilly as other cities on our list, but it’s definitely got snowfall covered—or rather, is covered in snowfall. When it snows here, it really snows. Terrace got buried in 1999, when it saw 113 cm in 24 hours, and again in 2015, when 150 cm fell within two days. (And don’t even get us started on the 1970s.) The locals put all that snow to good use, with nearby Shames Mountain Ski Area offering 28 runs up to 4 km long, plus backcountry skiing. If you’re more of a coffee-and-scarf kind of person, head to Sidewalkers Boutique for cozy accessories, then Xanders Coffee for friendly faces and hot beverages of all sorts. Terrace knows how to make a miserable winter just a little more tolerable.

 

19. Placentia, NL

A cold day in Placentia, NL, which gets some of Canada’s most miserable winter weather

Courtesy of the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


If you’re going to survive a winter in Newfoundland and Labrador, you’re going to need a good pair of boots and a warm jacket—and they better be waterproof. In Placentia, snowfall totals just 173 cm, but when you add in the 575 mm of winter rainfall and an average temp of -4° C, you’ll see why this town made the list. Stay dry at the Placentia Bay Cultural Arts Centre, which puts on plays and exhibits throughout the year, or the historic O’Reilly House Museum. After a wet day out, a cup of house-made soup at Three Sisters Pub is the perfect ending. Don’t forget your umbrella!

 

18. Gander, NL


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


If you’ve never worn plastic bags over your feet, Gander will surely introduce you to this beloved Canadian tradition. It sees an astonishing 443 cm of snow per year, making it one of the snowiest cities in Canada, according to CBC/Radio-Canada. In April 2017, storms buried houses and cars for days. The fearless locals embrace all that fluffy stuff with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing…and keeping a shovel inside the house, to dig their way out. Once out, you’ll find them heading to Scudrunner Brewing for a pint or to the local café for hot latte. Join them at The Gander Bread Box for a cup of fresh coffee and handcrafted jam jam cookies that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

 

17. Moncton, NB


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥


If Canadian cities were competitive athletes, Moncton would always go for gold. This New Brunswick city is always setting new personal bests: In 2015, it broke its own snowfall record, clocking in at 500 cm, plus endured its coldest temps in nearly 70 years. Those are records that even Wayne Gretzky would be proud of, and he knows a thing or two about ice. Monctonians aren’t about stay in their houses after all that shovelling, though—there are loads of things to do in Moncton in winter. Let Intuition Boutique show you how to bundle up in the latest sweaters and scarves, then head out to Pump House Brewery for a hot meal, a cold beer, and plenty of tales of nor’easters and ice storms.

 

16. Claresholm, AB


Let It Snow: ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥


Claresholm is not only a victim of Chinook winds, which can easily hit hurricane-force strength. It also saw record low temperatures last year, hitting -41.8° C on New Year’s Eve and smashing its old record by more than 6 degrees. With this combo of wind and freezing temps, it’s no wonder residents like to stay indoors in the winter! Activities like ice skating at the Arena and curling at Claresholm Curling Rink don’t just keep your limbs from freezing solid, they give you a chance to commiserate with like-minded community members. For the less athletic, events like the Christmas Market on December 8 at Claresholm Community Centre will keep your mind occupied when the weather outside is frightful.

 

15. Burns Lake, BC


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥


On February 11, 1999, the weather station at Tahtsa Lake recorded Canada’s most snowfall ever in a single day: 145 cm! (That’s four-fifths the height of Wayne Gretzky, FYI.) It’s easy to see why that area is relatively uninhabited, but head northeast to Burns Lake, and you’ll find similar weather. Being snowed in is no problem for the residents of this isolated spot in BC’s North-Central Interior—they’ll simply break out their snowmobiles. If you’re new to town, make the warm and cozy Aksenz Boutique your first stop to bundle up proper. Then join the locals at Grapevine Pub for grub and gossip, or enjoy a Northern Fog (Earl grey, steamed milk, and vanilla) at Alternative Grounds.

 

14. Thunder Bay, ON


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


New Year’s Eve last year brought freezing temperatures to much of Canada. In Ontario, Toronto and Ottawa shortened or cancelled their celebrations—but not Thunder Bay. Temps reached -40° C with wind chill, but all these residents needed was a reminder to dress in wind-resistant layers. Maybe that’s because this city has so much fun in the cold: Winter Fundays take place on Sundays from December 30 to March 17, 2019 and include activities like ice skating, snow sculpting, and kicksledding. Fat biking is all the rage here, too, so rent one from Rollin’ Thunder and hit the trails at Centennial Park. At the end of an active day, warm cold hands around a cup of Oso Negro artisanal coffee at Bean Fiend Café, and you’ll totally get why people live here.

 

13. Saguenay, QC


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥


This riverside Quebec town hits all the right notes for a miserable winter: the only major city (those with 100,000 people or more) that’s colder than Saguenay on average is Winnipeg—and everyone knows how insufferable their winters are. Between December and February, Saguenay sees only 15 days of winter thaw, that is, days when it’s warm enough to melt snow. That’s an ice-cold climate more suited to Jack Frost than human beings, but these humans aren’t letting it stop them, and neither should you. Rent ice skates or snowshoes and explore Parc de la Rivière-du-Moulin for some great winter selfies—or bundle up in a new sweater from Michel Signature boutique and take a selfie with your Viennese coffee at Café Croissant instead. That’s coffee infused with whipping cream, and it’s a decadent treat you totally deserve for surviving this winter.

 

12. Fort Vermilion, AB


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥


Fort Vermilion takes the silver medal for lowest temperature recorded in Canada, at -60.6° C on January 11, 1911, coming in second only to Snag, Yukon. It’s got another claim to fame, too: it’s the oldest European settlement in Alberta. Those pioneers were here way before the days of electric blankets and personal hand warmers, so you know the locals are a hardy bunch. You can get a taste of the frozen lives the settlers lived with a visit to the Fort Vermilion Heritage Centre, whose grounds include several historical log cabins. Put yourself in their shoes if you dare—you just better hope they are warm shoes.

 

11. Kenaston, SK


Let It Snow: ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥


Saskatoon is definitely in the running for coldest province in Canada, and Kenaston is a case in point. This prairie town used to call itself the “Blizzard Capital of Canada” and even built a snowman statue to prove it. Although the weather facts don’t quite match that claim, it is true that Kenaston has some pretty miserable winters. It’s cold, windy, and rural, but the hearty warriors of this village on the plains wouldn’t have it any other way. If you don’t get blown away while taking a selfie with the giant snowman, make your way to Kenaston Café for a slice of pie and a toasty hot chocolate. It’s a classic combination for a cold Canadian day.

 

10. Winnipeg, MB


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥 🔥


Winter in Winnipeg has a bit of a reputation, and it’s all deserved: It’s the coldest city in Canada with a population over 100,000. In fact, it takes that title in two different ways: coldest average winter temperature, and the highest number of days per year that are below freezing (113, to be exact). You won’t find complaining here, though—just light a bonfire, put some beers in the snow, and you’ve got a wintery Winnipeg party. Want some indoor options? A night of board games and drinks at Across the Board Cafe will keep you toasty.

 

9. Kenora, ON


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


Remember the Great Ontario Ice Storm of 2013? Kenora was right in the middle of it, breaking its own records for freezing temperatures. Yes, it’s cold here, and sure, sometimes your mailbox might freeze shut, but there are upsides: for example, you’ll get really good at driving while looking through a very tiny window that you’ve scraped through the ice on your car. Also, you’ll have adorable boutiques where you can find all the winter accessories you need, like slippers and robes at The Seasons Shop and cushy blankets at Abundance. After a coconut mocha at HoJoe Coffee & Eatery, you’ll be feeling the winter spirit just like a local—until you have to finish scraping your windshield, that is.

 

8. Val-D’Or, QC


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


If your motto is “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!,” Val-D’Or is your kind of place. Of the larger Canadian cities, it takes the award for most total days with snowfall: 103. Oh, and it’s pretty chilly, too. But residents don’t let the average January temp of -17° C keep them indoors—skiing, snowshoeing, hockey, ice fishing, and more are on the outdoor menu in winter. On the indoor menu: fondue and escargot at L’Avantage restaurant, and poutine and beer at Microbrasserie Le Prospecteur. Once you’ve got a buzz going, browse the books at La Galerie du Livre. You’re gonna need a good read for all those days you’re snowed in.

 

7. Moosonee, ON


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥


Moosonee has so much winter street cred, you’d almost think it was in one of the territories. For starters, its nickname is “Gateway to the Arctic,” which is appropriate for a place that gets an average of 7 cm snowfall…in May! Oh, and did we mention you’ll have to arrive by plane or train? In true rural north fashion, the only roads in winter are ice roads. Luckily, you can hop on the Polar Bear Express rail line in Cochrane, which will take you through some stunning winter landscapes on its way to the final stop in Moosonee. In town, check out the Cree Cultural Interpretive Centre, then cozy up in a booth at Treeline Diner for homemade stew that will warm your soul.

 

6. Thompson, MB


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥


Winnipeg might be the coldest major city in Canada, but to the north, Thompson takes the cake for Manitoba’s most miserable winter. Get used to shovelling, because Thompson sees some of the province’s worst early storms, with an average 24 cm of snow in October! Winter temps reach a frigid -24° C, but that just makes it the perfect place for pond hockey and ice fishing, right? If you think you’re tough enough for Thompson, get outfitted at Thompson Trading Post, then test your mettle at Mystery Mountain Winter Park. Pro tip: The more layers, the better.

 

5. Yellowknife, NT


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥 🔥 🔥


It’s no surprise the real most miserable winters are in the northern territories—and Yellowknife’s winter weather is some of the worst among Canada’s larger cities. It has the longest snow cover season and the most severe wind chill, so in this town, you better make sure every square inch of your skin is covered. Local boutique iceblink can help you out with that, plus provide you with stylish threads for indoor activities, too, like tapping your toes to live music at The Cellar Bar and Grill. Can’t stand to brave the wind? We hope you picked up some good reads from Yellowknife Book Cellar. Then all you need is a blanket and a fireplace, and you can hibernate for days. When your winters are this bad, sometimes pretending you’re a grizzly bear is the only way.

 

4. Inuvik, NT


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥


Inuvik is about as far north as it gets—so far north, there’s an entire month of darkness in December. When the sun first returns, it’s for a scant 40 minutes at a time. During these cold, endless nights, locals stay warm by…swimming? Yes, the Midnight Sun Complex has a year-round indoor pool, along with squash, curling, and a full gym. Refuel at Alestine’s, and be sure to take a picture with the Igloo Church. Once the sun comes out, you better believe the locals celebrate: the annual Sunrise Festival has a huge bonfire, fireworks, and plenty of partying. Hey, when you live in a place like Inuvik, you either embrace winter or GTHO.

 

3. Beaver Creek, YT


Let It Snow: ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥


It’s official: This is the coldest place in Canada. On February 3, 1947 at the Snag, YT weather station, the mercury dipped to -63° C—and that remains the lowest temperature ever recorded not only in Canada, but in all of North America. Snag is unpopulated and nearly impossible to reach by road, but we’re confident that nearby Beaver Creek is just as miserable. Local establishment Buckshot Betty’s can take care of your nourishment needs, but we hope you’ve got a snowmobile, or at least some cross-country skis. Aside from mulling cider and quilting, those are the main pastimes for this town’s 103 residents.

 

2. Baker Lake, NU


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥


We’ll just get right to it: Baker Lake is one of the windiest cities in Canada. Its flat geography and rapidly changing pressure systems mean that the wind, much like the famous hip-hop song, can’t stop, won’t stop. In fact, it’s the real blizzard capital of Canada. The average temperature of -32° C is no joke, and there are upwards of 20 blizzards per winter—so many, the locals built a “snow fence” to control the massive drifts, which can grow higher than 3 m. Sounds pretty terrible, right? But think of it this way: those snowdrifts are super fun for snowmobiles! Getting here in winter is quite an adventure, but if you make it, reward yourself with local art at Jessie Oonark Centre (Baker Lake is renowned for its soapstone carvings).

 

1. Rankin Inlet, NU


Let It Snow: ❄ ❄

Frostbite Factor: 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡 🌡

The Great Indoors: 🔥


Ever heard the term “ice fog”? If you live in Rankin Inlet, you have. It’s fog made up of tiny ice crystals, and it happens when the temperature is -40° C or colder—which it often is, in Rankin Inlet. Aside from ice fog, this freezing tundra town also has occasional hurricane-force wind gusts, only 4 to 8 hours of sunlight in December and January, and even averages 0.3 cm of snow in August. How long is winter in Canada? In Rankin Inlet, the answer is year-round. It’s no wonder the area is known for its ceramics (a nice, warm, indoor craft). Rankin Inlet’s ceramic artists have been featured at exhibitions all over Canada, and you can get an original piece of art at Matchbox Gallery. If you’re going to brave this weather, you have to have a souvenir.

 

If your city made the list, congratulations! You’ve earned your bragging rights as a survivor of Canada’s worst winters. (And you’ll probably want to check out our articles on the Best Winter Destinations to Escape the Cold or the Coziest Cities in Canada, for an escape to warmer temps!) If it didn’t make the list, the only question is: Are you brave enough to make your way to these frigid Canadian cities?


Header image via Cagri Kilicci/Shutterstock.com

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About Author

Carolyn Albee

Carolyn Albee is a lover of writing, dogs, and new cities—not necessarily in that order. When she’s not on a mission to find the best late-night snacks in those new cities, she’s off writing about why you should visit them, or doing some exploring of a different kind: Taking to the hills with her dog, Markus.

21 Comments

  1. Carolyn those of us in Burns Lake LOVE your blog. We feel like we have hit the big time, ranked up there with Ottawa! Yellowknife! and all the other great places mentioned. We have a ton of blog material for you on Highway 16 out to Prince Rupert. You need to jump in your car (with your dog) and travel our way. We will make sure you have the time of your life!
    #visitburnslake
    http://www.visitbulkleynechako.com
    FB: love burns lake

    Reply
  2. As a Lethbridge resident I can tell you that we often have days, weeks, without a strong wind, lovely warm temps when other cities are dealing with snow that stays and stays. When we do get snow it rarely lasts more than two weeks. When others are getting snow and cold we seem to be in a bubble of warm and dry. Would not live anywhere else.

    Reply
  3. Nonsense. Lethbridge has one of the better climates in Canada. The natives called the Chinooks “Snoweater”. Much of the winter, there is no snow on the ground. All winds are not 117 km and if you think Lethbridge is windy, you don’t know what wind is. Chinooks basically occur when it is raining in the west coast and the other winds are fronts moving through which everyone gets.

    Reply
  4. To be fair, Tahtsa Lake is hundreds of kilometres from the Village of Burns Lake (totally different climate), and is actually situated in central BC. Burns Lake is also located on Highway 16, which is the main (only) highway connecting the lower mainland (Vancouver) with northern BC, the Yukon and Alaska. Also, Aksenz sells ladies dress clothing, so I doubt you will find much to keep you warm there! What Burns Lake does boast is beautiful lakes, amazing mountain bike trails and very friendly residents!

    Reply
  5. I once had a business meeting in Santa Monica, and we adjourned for lunch. At an outdoor cafe, the Californians all complained about how miserable the weather was that day – 68 degrees and a little misty, requiring a light sweater. I said my goodbyes, boarded a plane and landed in Calgary a few hours later. 38 below zero. I wonder why they call Californians snowflakes . . .

    Reply
  6. Once again, we find that the information posted on the Internet is not always correct. Surprise, surprise. It could be said that Tahtsa Lake is located near Burns Lake as it could also be said that Vancouver is located near Burns Lake. IT’S NOT! Tahtsa Lake is in fact much closer to Kitimat than it is to Burns Lake. You were correct in the fact that we do get snow and cold weather in the winter here in Burns Lake. In fact, the fat bikers (Mountain Bikers with snow tires) love the weather and ride regularly on our world famous mountain bike trails. We also have snowshoers, cross-country skiers and sledders (snowmobile riders) that enjoy our winters. Burns Lake is a wonderful, friendly committee with marvelous businesses that you can visit year round. As I look out at the beautiful blue skies and sunshine, I know that I will take our winters anytime over the gray skies on the coast.

    Reply
  7. The author didn’t do very good research – I’ve been to at least 20 places way worse than some of these!
    Stewart (my current home) is known as one of the cloudiest places in the world – which explains the 224 days of precipitation and annual snowfall of 220 inches. Stewart is fabulous though in spite of this – and nowhere near as miserable as Winnipeg or Rankin Inlet!

    Reply
  8. Not sure who you polled for this but obviously no one from lethbridge as I am sending this now it is +8 and a 20 k wind with sunshine while from Saskatchewan east is -25 or worse.

    Reply
  9. This is a terrible list. How can Ottawa be on the list but Montreal with almost identical weather is not. Also, why is having snowy winters miserable? I give this list and “author” an F.

    Reply

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