4 worst outdoor jobs in extreme cold weather

CBC

If you're feeling the cold again today, you are not alone – but with any luck you can take shelter indoors.

A blast of winter weather continues to hover over a large swatch of Canada, from Saskatchewan to the Maritimes. And Environment Canada is saying it will probably stay with us for days to come.

While many people in communities with frigid temperatures will do what they can to avoid the cold, those who work outdoors don't have that luxury.

With an eye on who arguably has it the toughest, here are four jobs the faint of heart would be ill-equipped to brave on the coldest days of a Canadian winter.

“It’s -42 degrees with the wind here today and it’s a regular business day,” said Mark Devitt, a mail carrier in Sudbury, Ont. “It’s just part of the job. We live in Canada. We know when we sign up that we’re going to be delivering in the winter and this is just part of it.”

Devitt, 36, spends about five to six hours a day delivering mail, making 692 stops on his route yesterday.

He was looking “quite the fool,” he said, swaddled in clothing that included long johns, big winter boots, a winter parka, balaclava for his ears and head, and a big thick hat. But as long as he keeps moving, he said he can cope with the cold just fine.

“It’s not too bad. It’s beautiful clear blue sky and the sun is shining down. I much prefer this to when it’s raining or when it’s around zero and it’s all sloppy and slushy outside,” he said.

“The hardest part for me is my glasses. They keep fogging up every time I go in one of my businesses, then as soon as I go outside they get all frosted up. So I’m having a hard time seeing but other than that I’m ok,” he said.

Amador Briones, 33, is one of thousands of construction workers in downtown Toronto who spent their day in a half-built condo tower yesterday, despite temperatures that felt well below -20 Celsius with the wind chill.

“Yesterday I was wearing five layers. This particular day it was six,” he said, adding that this is the coldest weather in which he has worked outdoors.

Most of Briones’ fellow workers were allowed to go home in the morning, he said, because of the frigid temperatures. But he opted to stay on, working in the lower levels of the building where the wind was less harsh, until he was told to go home at noon.

“We’re in the midst of a pretty chilly week up here,” said Lance Jefferies, Hydro Ottawa’s director of distribution operations. “It’s a little bit shocking to the system as well because literally two weeks ago it was unusually mild for this time of year.”

Temperatures in the capital dipped below -30 Celsius with the wind chill. Jefferies said the 120 staff he oversees who work outside are taking steps to minimize their exposure.

Power-line technicians have it the worst, he said, because they have to go up in a cherry picker to do repairs where it’s even colder. But the utility is trying to schedule operations so that more people are working out of the wind, in manholes for example, or staying indoors to do training.

“Our guys are equipped and dress warm, but we also take more frequent breaks,” he said. “And we try to plan work accordingly – if there’s more setup work to do first thing in the morning or when it’s colder we do so.”

Jo Kelly, who owns and operates Qimmiq Kennels in Yellowknife, works outside all day every day, braving sub-arctic conditions where the air felt like -42 Celsius on Wednesday.

“We wear mukluks, we don’t wear boots. We wear mittens, not gloves. So we’ve kind of got it down to a pretty good science,” she said. “You learn to dress well and if you dress well the cold is really quite tolerable, and kind of enjoyable.”

Her kennel has boarded dogs from as far as off as Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit in Nunavut.

Qimmiq also offers the first doggy day camp in Yellowknife — a common service in southern cities but new in the Northwest Territories.

Each day starts with group runs out in the field. If the dogs can withstand the cold, they’re free to enjoy the outdoor play time. If they aren’t too pleased with the freezing air, less furry dogs can come in from the cold and stay warm indoors at the kennel.

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