Canada sits near the top of the map and, because it’s so far north, many people think of Canada as always cold and snowy.
But that would be a mistake. Canada is one of the largest countries in the world by land area, second only to Russia, and as a result the temperature range is massive.
Yes, it can be bitterly cold in the winter (the lowest recorded was -63°C at Snag, Yukon in 1947), but it also boasts very hot summers, with a highest recorded temperature of 45°C at Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan (although that was way back in 1937).
What do we mean by ‘Warmest Places in Canada’?
Actually, that’s a tough question. The easiest way would be to list the warmest cities for each region, but Canada is so large that no one can actually agree on exactly how many regions there are! For example, there are five official regions in Canada, but there are also eight distinct climate regions (strictly speaking these are known as physiographic regions, and some people argue that there’s only seven, not eight).
So, to decide on the warmest places, we’ve looked at average yearly temperatures and seasonal temperatures, but also things like the amount of sunshine and wind chill factors. For the statisticians amongst you (we know you’re out there!), we’re basing all our results on weather data collected between 1981 and 2010, which is the most recent mass data available from the Canadian Centre for Climate Services.
The Warmest Place in Canada Overall
This award goes to Victoria, BC (British Columbia). It records the highest average daily maximum temperature of just over 15°C (60°F), and also the highest average daily minimum of 7°C (45°F). In other words, it’s warmer for more of the year than any other place in Canada. This great weather is perfect for growing plants and flowers, which is why Victoria is known internationally as the ‘City of Gardens’: the most famous is the Butchart Gardens which welcomes over 1 million visitors every year.
But it’s not just the weather and the gardens that win awards – Condé Nast recently voted Victoria the Second Best Small City in the world, and also one of the 10 friendliest cities. It’s also a great place for whale watching: Victoria is home to three Orca pods (killer whales) – over 80 in total – and tours to see them run from May and start at 140 Canadian Dollars (about £75).
(Fun Fact: In winter, the coast of British Columbia is the only place in Canada where the average temperature is greater than the freezing point of water.)
The City with the Most Really Hot Days
‘Really hot’ is apparently a scientific term (who knew?) – it means the temperature has to reach over 30°C (86°F) for at least 10 days in a year. There are only 10 cities in Canada that qualify, and topping the list is Kelowna, BC, which is ‘really hot’ 26 days a year. Kelowna can be found nestled in the Okanagan Valley, in the south of British Columbia.
It’s a great holiday destination, especially if you like your wine – the valley has many award-winning vineyards and accounts for 90% of all the wine produced in BC. Kelowna also boasts great skiing and snowboarding at the aptly-named ‘Big White Ski Resort’, and it’s home to three world-class golf courses, including the stunning Gallagher’s Canyon which is a favourite with pros on the PGA tour.
(Fun Fact: Kelowna is the Okanagan word for grizzly bear. Of the 25,000 grizzlies in Canada, almost two-thirds live in BC. The grizzly cubs are very cute, but if you happen to see one nearby: move away quickly – the mothers will always attack if they think their cubs are threatened – no questions asked!)
The Sunniest City in Canada
Apart from measuring average temperatures and counting really hot days, another popular yardstick is the hours of sunshine a city gets in a year. To find the totals we sent our team of scientists to every city in Canada, armed with only a beach towel and some factor 50 (OK, we’re lying), and the winner is Calgary, Alberta, which receives exactly 2,396 hours of sun per year, spread over 333 days.
Ranked as one of the cleanest cities in the world by Forbes Magazine, Calgary is the 5th largest city in Canada and the centre of Canada’s oil industry. Famous for the Calgary Stampede – a massive rodeo and cowboy festival that takes place every May – its ties to the old west have earned it the nickname “Cowtown”. In 1988 Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics (the one with Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards), and ever since it has become a bit of a mecca for white water rafting, ice fishing, bobsledding and, of course, skiing.
(Fun fact: Although snow falls almost permanently in Calgary, the unpredictable chinook winds sometimes melt and then blow the snow away. Because of osn euch chinook – and much to the embarrassment of the organisers – ‘Calgary 1988’ was the first time in Olympic history that alpine events had to be held on artificial snow.)
The Hottest City in Canada
“What’s the difference between hottest and warmest”, we hear you cry? Well, none really. But there’s yet another way of measuring, and it’s this: if we look at the highest average daily maximum and minimum temperatures, and the really hot cities, and the number of days with no frost or snow, then the winner is Windsor, Ontario, which is the only city that is in the top 5 of each list. So we’re going to say that Windsor is the hottest city in Canada.
Windsor is on the banks of the Detroit River, and is the busiest border crossing point into the US. Its close ties to Detroit make it the automotive capital of Canada and it’s also famed for gambling, with the Caesars Casino attracting over six million visitors each year. But the main draw is Walkerville, a town built by Hiram Walker in 1890 to support the production of Canadian Club Whisky – that’s whisky without an ‘e’ – and distillery tours are extremely popular, with a lot of focus on Al Capone’s bootlegging of Canadian Club whisky during the prohibition years.
(Fun fact: Windsor’s official tourism board proudly boasts that the city is “one of Ontario’s best kept secrets”, whereas Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’ The Late Show, has dubbed it “the worst place on earth”. We’ll let you decide!)
The Warmest Beach in Canada
Savvy Canadian beach bunnies don’t head to the milder West Coast, but instead make a beeline for the Northumberland Strait in New Brunswick, eastern Canada. The shallow waters and favorable Gulf Stream currents raise the ocean temperatures to 29°C (84°F), and air temperatures along the coast can reach 23°C (73°F).
There are many popular beaches along the strait, but arguably the best is Parlee Beach. It’s famous for lobster, so much so that the nearby town of Shediac is known as the Lobster Capital of the World, with the world’s largest lobster statue marking that honour. Parlee is also a perfect beach for kids, with shallow water and lots of space to build sand castles. But don’t go there between December and April, as the entire strait is covered by sea ice.
(Fun fact: As part of the Canada Day weekend celebrations, The Beach Boys gave a concert at Parlee Beach on July 2nd 1989. It was attended by 20,000 fans, and it rained for the entire gig!)
The Warmest Place in Canada in the Winter
Not everybody wants to visit Canada in the summer. But in the winter, it’s still possible to avoid the really cold places, which is most of them! Some are warmer than others, and in this category the warmest place – in the winter – is Vancouver, BC. The average daily high is a comfortable 45°F (7°C), and the daily low stays just above freezing. In other words, it’s warm enough to enjoy walking around outside and sampling the clean, crisp air.
Vancouver is a modern, travel-friendly city with a unique mix of cultures and the highest population in BC. The majestic mountains, sparkling ocean and lush rainforests make Vancouver one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There’s plenty to see and do, including a visit to Vancouver’s most popular landmark – the totem poles in Stanley Park. One of our personal highlights is a walk across the 140m Capilano suspension bridge – Vancouver’s oldest paid visitor attraction.
(Fun Fact: Greenpeace, one of the most successful environmental groups worldwide, was founded in Vancouver 1971 by a group of eco-warriors who used to meet up in the Smart Mouth Cafe.)
The Coldest Place in Canada
OK, we said this article was going to be all about warmth and sunshine, but we know there’s a few people out there who like to sample the extremes. Although there are plenty of cold places in Canada, the honour of the actual coldest place is quite hard to work out. Winnipeg in Manitoba boasts the most days when the temperature never rises above freezing, and Saguenay, Quebec has the lowest daily maximum temperatures. But we’re going to go with Thunder Bay, Ontario, which has a lowest average minimum temperature of just -3.4°C (26°F). Brrrrr!
Thunder Bay is a city on Lake Superior, in northwestern Ontario. Originally a french fur-trading outpost, it grew into an important transport hub during the 20th Century, but is now more known for education and medical research. The city includes the Fort William First Nation reserve, an area of 14,000 acres that has been home to the Ojibwa tribe since 1850.
(Fun Fact: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, bought property in Fort William in 1914. He had returned to the area with the intent of honouring a promise he’d made to contact the ghost of a miner who had fallen down an old mine shaft. There is no evidence that he succeeded.)
A Final Word
Canada is a country of natural beauty, with a backdrop of mountains, glaciers, lakes and forest that is almost unparalleled worldwide. Its reputation for being a cold country is admittedly well-deserved, but we hope we’ve been able to show you that there are some warm, sunny places where spending a day outdoors need not mean scarves, gloves and ski jackets. Canada’s tourism motto is ‘keep exploring’, and we hope you’ll do just that.
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