[OBSCURA] On the misleading and changing meaning of the North in Canada
For the past couple of winters, I’ve been feeling as if I live in a foreign country.
Canadians self-define their country as a northern one, verging on the Arctic. This is true, and yet, most of the major population centres of Canada–the great Windsor-Québec City corridor, the Maritimes, Vancouver, Winnipeg, even–are concentrated in the extreme south of the country. In terms of latitude, all of these cities are located considerably further to the south than many European cities we think of regularly, not just as peers but as warmer destinations. It is the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm, that gives Tallinn (for instance) the chance to enjoy a climate significantly more clement than the northern Manitoba port of Churchill.
This has been changing in the past couple of years. It hit me most strongly last year, just before Christmas, when I went out for lunch with a friend (hi Mark!). He was wearing bike shorts, and comfortable wearing them. Why not? It was 15 degrees out. Afterwards, I got out of the TTC at Spadina station and just stood for a moment, looking at the Annex around me. It was 4 o’clock, and starting to get dark, and yet it was warm.
Canada, unlike Europe, doesn’t have a Gulf Stream. It does share in the greenhouse effect that is already contributing to record winter highs in the Arctic, and elsewhere.