Canadians Shiver With Joy Over Frozen Square Tires

Indoors or out, they find ways to have fun in sub-zero temperatures

CANADIANS know how to have fun in the winter. They're professionals at greeting it or beating it.

Aaron Gergye, a climatologist for the Canadian government, correctly predicted back in November that this winter would be unusually bitter. His forecast gave Canadians a head start on snapping up snow shovels, big jugs of blue de-icing fluid, and extra batteries for their electric socks.

Americans who may have relied on the Old Farmer's Almanac or National Weather Service - both of which predicted a mild winter - have instead encountered blizzards and a nationwide snow-shovel shortage. Given Canada's advance warning, should it surprise anyone that Canadians are enjoying a snow-shovel glut? Sears Canada has them for 25 percent off.

Temperatures recently have been zero to minus 18 degrees F with wind chills making it seem much colder. This is welcome news to ice fishing fans, whose huts have sprouted like mushrooms all over lakes north of Toronto. All that is needed other than long johns are minnows, a small fishing rod, and an ice auger. Hut is optional.

``Everyone hopes for hard water,'' writes outdoorsman and ice-fishing columnist John Power in the Toronto Star. ``The harder the better.''

Hockey, of course, is the king of outdoor recreation in the Great White North. But what not everyone knows is that 819 of 2,534 Canadians who have played in the National Hockey League come from the ``prairie'' provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Why so many kids from that area? One veteran told the Western Report, a regional magazine, that most of the kids there grow up playing pond hockey and become better players because the intense cold toughens them up.

Maybe. But to be truthful, not all Canadians warm to the sort of feat achieved by the Sylvan Lake Polar Bear Club. On New Year's day members donned swimsuits for a dip in the aforementioned lake 12 miles west of Red Deer, Alberta. Outside it was 15 degrees F, though the water was somewhat warmer, according to a club spokesman.

Two weeks ago, Torontonians fed up with the cold hopped the subway downtown to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where entrepreneurs had trucked in sand for California-style volleyball, indoor golf, and baseball.

The kind of cold snap experienced by eastern Canadians, however, is not likely to faze northwesterner Donald Watt, client service manager of the Yukon Weather Centre in White Horse, population 17,925. Normally January temperatures in White Horse are between minus 13 and 3 degrees F.

Record warm temperatures this month have soared into single digits during the day, though Mr. Watt admits in a phone interview that night lows dip to minus 40 degrees F. At that level, he explains, rubber and plastic become brittle. Tires retain a flat spot where they were resting overnight and thump as they drive.

``Square tires, we call `em,'' he says. When things warm up to minus 20 Celsius [-4 degrees F], ``that's not really that hard a number to deal with.''

Watt, whose avocation is snow sculpting, says he is hoping for warmer weather when he and the two others on his team travel to Quebec City Jan. 28 for that city's annual winter carnival featuring the national snow-sculpting championships.

The winning team gets an extra week in Quebec to do more snow sculpting. The losers, he jokes, get a trip to Florida.

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