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The 5 Definitive Coldest Places in Canada

The 5 Coldest Towns & Cities in Canada (Climate Guide)
Photo by David Mark at Pixabay

First things first: The coldest places in Canada are also some of the coldest places on Earth. In fact, the average temperature of some Canadian towns never gets higher than freezing (defined as 0°C or 32°F). But exactly where in Canada is it coldest of all?

It’s actually a trickier question than might first appear. To answer, we’ve dismissed a lot of the ‘lists of lists’ articles (which all seem to disagree with each other!) and gone back to the raw data. We’ve looked at average yearly temperatures and seasonal temperatures, but also total days of sunshine and wind chill factors. We’ve also ignored any anomaly temperatures that would otherwise skew the results. The outcome? Our picks are based on proper weather data collected between 1981 and 2010, which is the most recent mass data available from the Canadian Centre for Climate Services. 

Cue this list of intrepid spots, which range up to the snow-covered Yukon on the Arctic Circle and out to the great plains of Saskatchewan. They include Canada’s coldest inhabited location, the country’s chilliest large city, and – of course – the place with the coldest temperature ever recorded in Canada. Prep the thermals. Let’s go…

Snag, Yukon: The coldest ever recorded temperature in Canada

snag yukon
Photo by Kalen Emsley/Unsplash

The lowest temperature ever officially recorded in Canada – and indeed in all of continental North America – is -62.8°C (-81.4°F). It was at the village of Snag, a now-abandoned mining town in the Yukon established during the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. The record low temperature was recorded on February 2nd, 1947, right in the center of a cold snap that affected most of the world (in the UK, London’s famous River Thames froze over for the first time in more than 120 years!).

In the same 1947 cold snap, record lows were also recorded at Norman Wells, NWT (-54.4°C), Fort Nelson, BC (-51.7°C), and Fort McMurray, Alberta (-50.6°C). So, it wasn’t just the northern parts of Canada that were feeling the chill. More recently, in 1973, a weather station near Esker Lake in Newfoundland recorded a new record low of -51.1°C, which is as close as we’ve come to the Snag record in modern times.

At those temperatures, any exposed skin would freeze in less than three minutes, promptly followed by frostbite, hypothermia, and eventually death. Nowadays, crazy low temperatures like this don’t happen in Canada too often, although some places in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories can still reach -35°C and during the height of the winter.

So, where would you look for Snag if you were thinking of visiting? It won’t be easy. Located 20 miles from the Canada-Alaska border, on the bends of the roaring White River, the village can only be reached on a winding road through the mountains and woods that is virtually completely frozen over in the winter months. It’s hardly your usual winter break sort of place!

Fun fact: Although many articles mention that Snag recorded the coldest temperature ever on February 2nd, most don’t add that the temperature between Jan 29th and Feb 5th 1947 was constantly lower than 57°C (70°F), which is itself another record!

Saguenay, Quebec: Canada’s coldest large city

Saguenay, Quebec
Photo by Kalen Emsley/Unsplash

Out of all of Canada’s largest cities, by which we mean the 33 urban regions that are home to at least 100,000 people, Saguenay in Quebec has the lowest average annual temperature. The hottest it gets (on average, across the whole year) is a mere 8°C, and the coldest is -3°C. Granted, this might not seem particularly cold when compared to some of the northernmost places in Canada, but remember -3°C is a yearly average figure! Drill down into the data for individual months and you’ll that see winter temperatures bottom out at -21°C in January. Now we’re getting colder!

Saguenay is best known for the Saguenay Fjord National Park, where an (admittedly lengthy) hike offers stunning views of Quebec’s mountainous landscapes. More recently, the city’s also been in the news because of plans to construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, being raised at a cost of $9bn. When complete, the plant and its 485-mile pipeline linking Ontario and Quebec will be the world’s greenest LNG facility.

Fun fact: In 1535, Jaques Cartier, an explorer of the French royalty, was searching for the fabled kingdom of Saguenay, said to be “rich in gold and diamonds, some of whose inhabitants knew how to fly.” He never found it, but he did discover a new territory along the St. Lawrence River, and the local Iroquois invited him to their village, which they called a “kanata”. Believing that to be the name of the area, he wrote that he had “discovered a new land called Canata”, which is how Canada got its name!

Regina, Saskatchewan: Canada’s extreme wind chill city

Wascana Lake at Regina
In the winter, the Wascana Lake at Regina freezes over completely | Image Credit: Masalai (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes, in Canada, wind chill can even trump temperature lows when it comes to chilliness. You need to be prepared for winter weather that includes gale-force winds that bring piercing sub-zero temperatures with them. In fact, local weather forecasters even have something known as an “extreme wind chill” day, when there are warnings out because the icy gusts are just so bad!

Regina, the capital city of Saskatchewan, has the highest number of negative-20 index days per year (136), and for fourteen of those, it drops below -40°C. This invariably happens in February, when the city is already experiencing its lowest temperatures of -20°C. Factor in the wind chill, and any exposed skin will feel like it’s -60°C as soon as you step outside. That means there’s extreme danger of frostbite and hypothermia. This is why you should always pay careful attention to the “feels like” section of Canadian weather forecasts!

Regina typically has 201 days a year when the minimum temperature is at 0°C or below. Between December and May, thick snow covers the treeless flat plains around the city. Apart from being uber-cold that makes it a real beacon for winter sports fans – cross-country skiing, tobogganing, and skating are all a big deal for Regina during the winter months. In fact, Regina is home to Mark McMorris, one of the greatest pro snowboarders on the circuit, and an Olympic bronze medallist at just 23 years old. He was also the first person to ever land a “backside triple cork 1440”, whatever that means!

Fun fact: In 1908, L. Frank Laubach, a former member of the King’s Bodyguard for Scotland, directed the first orchestral performance of the amateur Regina Orchestral Society. And they haven’t stopped playing since. Now called the “Regina Symphony Orchestra” they hold the title of of Canada’s oldest continuously performing orchestra.

Eureka, Nunavut: The coldest inhabited place in Canada

Eureka
Photo by Nong Vang/Unsplash

Saguenay in Quebec might be Canada’s coldest city, but the coldest place of all is a small weather station called Eureka, Nunavut. It’s situated well above the Arctic Circle on Ellesmere Island – just check where that is on the map, closer to Greenland than to Vancouver! The base has a rotating population of just eight meteorologists, who have held fort up there every day since it opened in on 11th April 1947.

Despite sitting further south than a similar weather station (called Alert), Eureka experiences the lowest annual temperature of any Canadian settlement, or, indeed, any other weather station. It averages out to a shiver-inducing -18.8°C over the year. And as if that still wasn’t bad enough, between mid-October and late February, the station is plunged into total darkness, twenty-four hours a day. (The flip-side is just as unsettling, as the sun never goes down between March and September. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘land of the midnight sun’.)

Apart from record low temperatures, Eureka also sees the least annual rainfall in Canada, with an average of only 1.28 inches. For comparison, the average across the whole of Canada is roughly 37 times higher. Eureka also holds the record for the lowest temperature with wind chill added, which was recorded as exactly -70°C in June 1979.

Fun fact: Although it holds records for being Canada’s coldest inhabited place, Eureka broke its own high temperature personal best in 2020, recording a maximum of 19.5°C on 26th July. More used to sealing every exit to conserve heat, Greg Stansfield, the station’s program manager, told Nunatsiaq Magazine “the inside of the building is [now] extremely warm. We’ve got all the windows [and] all the doors open to try and cool down!”

Winnipeg, Manitoba: Canada’s other coldest city

Winnepeg, Manitoba
Photo by Eva Blue/Unsplash

As we said at the start, our list is guided by the science. But, as far as average annual lows go, Winnepeg only just loses out to Saguenay, Quebec. What’s more, in some ways it actually has a good claim to the top spot. Allow us to explain, but a warning first: This involves a lot of stats and figures…

In January, Saguenay records average highs/lows of -10/-21°C, and the same figures for Winnipeg are -11/-21°C. So, although it hits the same low as Saguenay, Winnepeg is always technically colder in January, as the high is lower. Sstill with us? Good. The figures for December are even further apart. This time both the high and low are colder for Winnipeg. So, although Saguenay’s average annual temperature range (+8/-3°C) is marginally colder than Winnipeg’s (+9/-3°C), the latter records lower temperatures in winter.

The upshot is — at least during the winter months — Winnipeg is Canada’s coldest large city (which is great news for Manitoba’s polar bears). On average, Winnipeg sees 193 days of sub-zero temperatures per annum (that’s over half of the year). For 13 of them, the thermometer drops below -30°C. Add to that the strong winds, sweeping in relentlessly from the Red River Valley, and you can totally understand why locals jokingly refer to their home as “Winterpeg”.

Fun fact: Winnipeg’s downtown intersection of Portage and Main is known as the “Crossroads of Canada”, as it’s very close to the actual geographical center of the country. However, it’s also called “the windiest intersection in Canada”, due to the very strong winds that barrel down Main Street. It’s also the only Canadian intersection to be name-checked in the chorus of a Neil Young song, which repeatedly uses the lyric “Portage and Main, 50 below!”

FAQs

What is the snowiest place in Canada?

The snowiest major city in Canada is either St. John’s, NL, which has 132 inches of snow per year, or Saguenay, QC, which has the most days (155) with fresh snowfall. However, the snowiest place in Canada is the coastal town of Woody Point, NL, which gets 245 inches of snow (that’s nearly 21 feet!) every year, all of it falling in just 89 days.

Which city has the worst weather in Canada?

Assuming that “worst weather in Canada” means the coldest, then you’re looking at Saguenay, Quebec, which has the lowest annual temperature of any major city in Canada. It also holds the record for the most snowstorms in Canada (an average of 21 days per year). Another answer is Halifax, Nova Scotia, which suffers from a rare type of snowstorm, known as “thundersnow“, at least once a year.

What is the coldest month in Canada?

Overall, the coldest month in Canada is January, with an average temperature of -5°C (23°F). However, Canada is vast, and so is the range of temperatures. So in January, while many cities are recording their lowest temperatures, places like Victoria, BC are still comfortably warm (in fact, Victoria qualifies as the warmest place in Canada).