Canadian governments are looking for ways to beat the heat as they become increasingly aware of the dangers climate change poses not just to the environment but to public health as well.

Health Canada is looking for a company to create an online course for health professionals to help them identify the signs of illnesses related to extreme heat events. The department's research has concluded that many regions of Canada will be hit with heat waves that are longer, hotter and more frequent in the coming years.


An artist's rendition depicts a green roof planned for Montreal's Palais des Congrés, to help counter a 'heat island' effect seen in cities. (Palais des Congrés de Montreal)

"Heat's not something that we're used to dealing with in Canada. And there's going to be more and more presentations of this as we move forward," said Jim Frehs, manager of the climate change and health office of Health Canada.

"There's projections that we will see a doubling or tripling of extreme heat events by the end of the century. So we need to be prepared."

The office defines an extreme heat event as three consecutive days of 30-degree-plus temperatures.

Ottawa isn't alone in its concern. Provinces and municipalities are also acting to adapt to the new reality.

Heat waves and health

Extreme heat events can result in several heat-related illnesses, causing heat exhaustion, fainting, cramps or heat stroke.

A heat stroke, also called sun stroke, is a medical emergency — if you suspect heat stroke, dial 911. A victim suffering heat stroke will have a body temperature above 40 C, but they will have stopped sweating. Other symptoms include:

  • Throbbing headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea.
  • Red, hot and dry skin.

Precautions include: staying indoors in air-conditioned areas, avoiding direct sunlight, drinking lots of water, taking a cool bath or shower, limiting physical activity, avoiding alcohol, and checking for side effects of medication.

Source: Health Canada

Quebec's climate change action plan was set in motion in 2007. The province created an integrated heat-warning system and it is using satellite technology to monitor its progress. The province plans to update the system this year.

Quebec is motivated by statistics that show a significant uptick in deaths related to extreme heat.

"If you are not prepared, if you do nothing, [the increase in deaths] can be in the thousands," said Dr. Pierre Gosselin, head of research at Quebec's Public Health Institute.

The institute is also sponsoring dozens of greening projects across the province but mostly focused on the island of Montreal.

'Re-greening' urban areas

Cities are particularly at risk from extreme heat because of a phenomenon known as the Heat Island Effect. Simply put, cities tend to be several degrees hotter than the surrounding rural areas, because of all the black roofs, concrete and steel that absorb and retain heat.

To combat this effect, Montreal is "re-greening" urban areas. In some cases, that means tearing up parking lots to plant trees and build parks. In other cases, it is the creation of roof-top gardens. One of the signature projects is at the Palais de Congrés in Montreal's downtown.

"The goal with green roofs is to reduce the urban temperature to a much more normal temperature. To avoid smog effects as well as to create a healthier breathing space for people to live in," said Owen Rose, the project manager at the Palais' garden.