VANCOUVER — Known for rain and mild winters, British Columbia’s west coast received an unexpected white Christmas as much of Western Canada shivered through extreme cold warnings and some parts of Ontario suffered through freezing drizzle.

“We only get one about every 11 years. That’s how infrequent it is,” Environment Canada meteorologist Gregg Walters said of the two to five centimetres that Vancouver and surrounding areas saw on Saturday.

The criteria is a little challenging, Walters admitted. There technically has to be two centimetres on the ground by 7 a.m. for it to count as a true white Christmas, and he said it didn’t start snowing until later Christmas morning.

“The last time we actually had a dusting of snow on Christmas Day was in 2017,” he noted, although he wasn’t sure if two centimetres accumulated then.

Most people who posted pictures of the Christmas snowfall in Vancouver on social media weren’t hung up on technicalities. At Sunset Beach, one person even posted video of kids sledding on a hill.

Other pictures showed fresh snow on residential streets, unspoiled by tire tracks with so few people travelling on the holiday. 

Across the Strait of Georgia on Vancouver Island, Tom Vanderhoek called the snowy scene “quite magical” when he and his wife looked out in Parksville, northwest of Nanaimo.

“As long as you don’t have to get out on the roads and everybody sits and hunkers down around the Christmas tree and having eggnog and rum, and got the turkey in the oven, that’s about as magical in my eyes as you can get for Christmas,” Vanderhoek said of the snow.

“I grew up in 100 Mile House (in the B.C. Interior) so we saw quite a few. We used to wish that we didn’t have a white Halloween,” he joked.

Unfortunately, Vanderhoek did have to venture out, and he was speaking from the parking lot of a veterinarian’s office in Nanaimo. Friends had gone out for a walk with their dog on the beach, he said, where it may have eaten something it shouldn’t have.

The prognosis was good, however.

Officials with Vancouver International Airport reported only a few minor delays, mostly due to the need for de-icing aircraft. 

The airport’s website still advised passengers to check with their airline before coming to the airport, and to leave extra time for the drive.

Walters said the unusual weather was due to very cold air in the province’s Interior that’s being drawn out to the coast by a low pressure area on the western side of Vancouver Island. Another five centimetres was forecast for Saturday night, he said, before the air dries and the snow stops.

The cold weather for the area is expected to continue for days, meaning the snow that’s on the ground isn’t going to melt.

Such situations have happened before, Walters said. On Christmas Day 2008, there was a whopping 41 centimetres of snow on the ground at the airport.

“That was the year before the Olympics. The Olympics happened next year and we didn’t get nearly as much snow,” he said.

Extreme cold warnings, meanwhile, remained in effect across an area stretching from B.C. all the way through Alberta and Saskatchewan, and a few sections of Manitoba. Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon all saw temperatures below -25 on Saturday.

Farther east, Ottawa and Montreal experienced light snow and freezing drizzle.

Toronto, meanwhile, had a drizzly Christmas more akin to the Vancouver norm.

It reached 7 C Saturday in Canada’s most populous city — a far cry from the -0.5 C average for Christmas Day in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published December 25, 2021.

–By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

The Canadian Press