Newcomers learn how to brave a Canadian winter

Learning how to layer clothing, where to find affordable winter gear covered in Sierra Club program for recent immigrants to Canada.

Learning how to layer clothing, where to find affordable winter gear covered in Sierra Club program

Priise Mugisho with her little brother Isaac exploring Halifax's McIntosh Run. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

Priise Mugisho spent Saturday exploring the McIntosh Run community trail in the Halifax neighbourhood of Spryfield.

She just moved to Nova Scotia from Uganda in July and has been making a point to go outside every day this winter.

"I get out to feel free, to see, to get used to it because as long as I'm keeping myself in the house I might get culture shock and start thinking of giving up … but I just get out and have fun," Mugisho said.

Mugisho was one of small group of new immigrants taking part in the Sierra Club Atlantic's Wild Child program's Winter Walk & Gear Talk.

Dressing appropriately, affordably

The program's goal is to educate new immigrants on how to dress appropriately for Canadian winters, where to find affordable winter clothing and suggestions on areas and trails to explore.

"We wanted to do this event today in partnership with Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia because we felt like it was an important project to get new Canadians outside and discover a trail that's here in Spryfield and then also learn about how to dress for the weather," said Heidi Verheul, Wild Child co-ordinator.

Priise Mugisho and her little brother Isaac checking out the winter gear. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Verheul said the weather can be a big barrier in getting people outside.

Bad gear makes for bad winters

"Getting wet, getting cold — that's not really fun. But if you're dressed properly, you realize there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear," she said.

After the outdoor trail walk, the group headed to the Captain William Spry Community Centre for a tutorial on winter dressing with the Salvation Army Thrift Stores and the Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Winter clothing on display at the Captain William Spry Centre in Halifax. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"Some of [the newcomers] are coming from really warm countries. They've never seen the snow, and they don't know what to expect," said Julie Buchanan, district manager for Salvation Army Thrift Stores in HRM.

Thrift stores need winter clothes

Buchanan said buying new winter jackets and boots can be expensive, but that those items can be found for as little as $20 secondhand at the thrift shop.

She said this time of year, the stores in Halifax have a difficult time keeping winter gear on the racks.

Co-ordinator Heidi Verheul says there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"Our highest need right now is winter clothing of all types: winter coats, snow pants, hats, mittens, globes, scarves and if it's waterproof, even better," Buchanan said. "If you're looking to recycle a pair of skates, the Salvation Army would love your skates."

Layering is crucial

Cliff Pratt, one of the front line staff at the Mountain Equipment Co-op store in Halifax, taught the newcomers how to layer clothing.

"Canadian winters, especially here in Halifax, are so variable. We have rain, snow, sleet, sun, like everything going on in the one day. It's hard for people to know how to dress properly for that," Pratt said.

"Once people figure out how to layer properly I think that might help to get people out a little bit more."

Avoid cotton

One of the most important things to stay away from with layers, Pratt said, is cotton. He said it's "very dangerous."

"A lot of people don't understand that jeans, cotton t-shirts, cotton underwear — once that stuff is wet, it stays wet and doesn't dry until you get it home into a dryer. That cold wet material against your skin just sucks the heat out of your body," he said.

"Try to stick with things like wool and polyester."

Cliff Pratt with Mountain Equipment Co-op said layers are key to staying warm this winter. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Pratt said Mountain Equipment Co-op has a twice a year gear swap. That's when gently used or slightly defective clothing is put back out on the shelves for resale at a heavily discounted price.

'You just have to get used to it'

"Maybe somebody knows how to fix a zipper, they can fix the zipper themselves and then they have a brand new jacket pretty much," he said.

Now that Mugisho is finding her stride in winter, she has advice to share with other newcomers.

"I would advise someone just to be strong and get used to it because they don't have any other choice. It's six month winter and … you have to get used to it."

With files from Allison Devereaux