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Canadians pull together under a blanket of snow

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Although many outsiders think our pastime is hockey, in actuality, it's talking about the weather. And this week we've had a lot to talk about. Victoria, B.C., for instance – the country's mildest winter-weather city, with only five white Christmases on record since 1965 – is experiencing its snowiest holiday on record. At the other end of the country, meanwhile, thousands of homes in Nova Scotia lost power after severe winter storms this week.

"Canadians are winter people. They are weather people,'' says David Phillips, a climatologist with Environment Canada who received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Order of Canada, for his forecasting work. "We are not just passionate about it, we're obsessed with it. We can talk about it forever and never grow bored."

That may explain why weather stories often are front-page news. And why 93 percent of us won't leave home without first checking the forecast, according to studies conducted by Mr. Phillips and his colleagues. It's little wonder, he adds, since we're not only the second-largest country in the world, we're also the second-coldest – just one degree warmer, on average, than Russia, and a bit colder than Mongolia.

Whereas sun and sand figures large in the literature of sub-Saharan Africa, snow plays a major role in Canadian literature. In fact, whole works by literary luminaries have been devoted to understanding how the inhospitable Canadian climate has shaped the national psyche. Perhaps the defining take on the nation's literature was provided in Margaret Atwood's dead-accurately titled book, "Survival." In terms of painters, the closest Canada has come to producing an Old Master was 19th-century artist Cornelius Krieghoff. He didn't do much portraiture – snowy landscapes were his thing.

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