What’s Different – Calgary Edition

Freshly landed in Germany, I did a post comparing the most obvious differences between Johannesburg and Mülheim an der Ruhr. The post was pretty popular on the old blog, and ultimately led to quite a few comparison-type posts. I’ll link to all of these at the end of this post, if you’re interested.

In the name of keeping up the tradition, we’re going to chat about the glaring differences between Toronto and Calgary today.

The Weather

Yes, obviously. I’ve come to expect our friends and family in South Africa to be shocked and horrified by the cold in Canada, but I had no idea that so many of the friends we made in Toronto would be so wrong about the weather in Calgary too. Sorry guys. 🙂

As Calgary is more north than Toronto, it’s definitely colder in actual temperature. But, there are two major differences in climate that affect the real feel temperature in a big way.

First, humidity.

Toronto is a pretty humid place, all year round. Calgary isn’t. The air is so dry here that it’s been affecting us in physical ways, such as drier hair and skin, but more on that later.

You wouldn’t think it, but add humidity to any kind of cold and it feels colder. You’re always slightly damp when it’s that humid, albeit from sweat or a slight moisture in the air, which means the wind on your skin is so much worse. Aside from that, though, it also means there’s more ice, and in my experience, wind over ice creates more a palpable cold than falling snow.

Speaking of snow, even that’s different in Calgary. The humidity in Toronto causes wetter snow, so it’s much easier to compact it into snowballs, for example. But in Calgary, the snow remains powdery, even when it’s been on the ground for a few days. You can blow it away, literally. People use leaf blowers to clear the snow here.

Second, sunshine.

It’s called Sunny Calgary for a reason. This is the sunniest city in Canada, with almost 2400 hours of sunshine per anum, almost 300 hours more than in Toronto. The sun adds a lot of warmth, especially when there’s no wind. More than that though, the sporadic winter rainfall in Toronto also makes for more ice, and more days of cloud cover means it’s more difficult for the ice to melt away.

Of course we’ve had more snowfall than usual in Calgary this year, because where has my family moved to that hasn’t been a record-breaking year in some way or another? Calgary typically sees 128.8 cm of snow per anum, but has basically reached the yearly snow limit, and we still have December ahead of us. Having said that, the general perception is that it snows loads more in Calgary than in Toronto, but that just isn’t true. Toronto’s average yearly snowfall sits at 121.5 cm, which really isn’t that much of a difference. Besides, we had snow coming out of our eyeballs last winter in Toronto, which broke its own records.

All in all, even our coldest days in Calgary haven’t been as bad as similar days in Toronto. Still, I know that the coldest months are still ahead of us, so if this statement changes, I’ll do an updated post about it. I might also write about chinooks once we’ve experienced that.

Physical Differences

So, I mentioned above that the drier air means drier hair and skin. This has been such a shocking difference that we’ve had to get our hands on extra hydrating body lotion and leave-in conditioning treatments, or our hair would always stick up with static and our feet would tear holes in the bedsheets. 🙂 One month in, and our skin and hair have finally started to recover.

If you’re planning a move to Calgary, do take into account that you might have to increase your water intake. This has definitely helped towards the dry skin and hair problem, but it’s also a must to combat headaches. We did a lot of research before coming here, and many sites have said that we may experience headaches/migraines due to chinooks. This is especially true for people who come from more humid climates. Staying hydrated is more important than ever, even when grabbing a cup of coffee might seem nicer than a glass of water in the winter.

This is gross, but in the name of doing a thorough comparison, it must be said. I’ve contended with a bleeding nose since coming here–something I haven’t had a problem with since leaving Johannesburg. This was particularly bad in the first week, when my nose bled at least once a day. From there it gradually lessened to the point where I haven’t had to deal with this problem for a whole week, touch wood.

Shopping and Living

We don’t pay as much in sales taxes as we did in Toronto (this is called value added tax in South Africa). To be specific, we paid 13% in Toronto, and pay 5% now.

We also don’t have all of the same stores in Calgary–for example, no Food Basics. Shopping at Sobeys and Safeway has been great though, with the added benefit that Safeway offers a discount on petrol/gas with every purchase. As it is, the petrol/gas is much cheaper in Calgary, but every bit helps right?

Alcohol is much more readily available in Calgary, where the LCBO controls liquor distribution in Toronto (only wine and beer are available in selected grocery stores, everything else is in the LCBO). This is great when you need a bottle of Amarula in a hurry. 😛

Everything else shopping-wise is pretty much the same.

In terms of living, house and rental prices are much lower in Calgary. Buying a three bedroom house in Toronto is in the 850k – 1.2million price range, where a similar house in Calgary will go for less than half of that.

Unfortunately, I can’t compare the price of utilities between Toronto and Calgary. Our rental agreement included utilities in Toronto, and we haven’t yet paid a month’s utilities in Calgary. From what we’ve learned, more natural gasses are used here than in Toronto, which should lower the heating cost, but since it’s colder and the house we’re renting now is bigger, we might end up paying more to keep it warm. Once I have a better idea of what the utilities amount to, I’ll do a post that compares winter and summer utility costs.

And that’s all I can think of. If you have any requests for comparison posts, or questions about life in Toronto or Calgary, please feel free to send me a message and I’ll answer what I can.

Meanwhile, here are the links to the old comparison posts.

What’s Different (TGC)

Germany – Things I don’t Understand

What I Love About Germany

Little Differences (TGC)

Growing Pains

Things I Miss About Germany

A Comparison – The Weather

A Comparison – Shopping


Until next time.



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