BY GARY MAY
Call it Ontario’s shirtsleeves coast.
Down in the province’s far southwest, Windsor-Essex County is surrounded on three sides by water. It amounts to 100 miles of shoreline, and because of a combination of its southerly latitude and waterfront location, this area can boast autumn weather that lingers longer — and earlier springs — than any other place in Ontario.
In fact, weather guru David Phillips tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, Windsor-Essex enjoys the warmest autumns of any place in Canada. Take that, Vancouver. Stand aside, Victoria. Windsor-Essex is No. 1.
“If they’re looking for something to put on a bumper sticker in Essex County,” says Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, “it should say, ‘Come enjoy the warmest falls in Canada.’ ”
He says adding to the Windsor-Essex autumn experience is the fact that September and October are normally the driest months of the year. So along with those lingering warm temperatures come plenty of sunny, dry days.
That means more time to enjoy golfing, bicycling, hiking, boating and any other warm-weather outdoor activity your heart desires. “Seven months of shirtsleeve weather,” says Essex County’s “Retire here” campaign. And they’re not joking.
When those early November blizzards sweep in off of the waters of upper Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, piling the snow onto places like Barrie and Collingwood, chances are the golfers will still be taking to the greens in Essex.
And next April, when the ice and snow are still piled high in Ottawa, they’ll be back at it in Essex, perfecting their back-swing for another season on the links.
'I wouldn't want to live anyplace else'
Josh Malott, assistant superintendent at the Belleview Golf Club in Woodslee, just outside Windsor near Lake St. Clair, says a few years ago he was golfing until the middle of January. He had to put his clubs away for a month, he says, before a mild spell in February lured him out again. Then a late-winter snow forced the course’s closure for two weeks, until they finally opened for the season in mid-March.
“I was out there in the middle of winter and it was no different from playing in October or November,” Malott tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “The trees were bare, but the conditions were the same. It’s always good to be outside. I wouldn’t want to live anyplace else.”
While that was an unusually mild winter, Malott says it’s routine to stay open until Dec. 15, then reopen for spring around March 15.
At the Kingsville Golf and Country Club near Lake Erie, general manager Doug Quick says the season there is a little more structured. Members have determined they’ll close for the winter on Nov. 30, and not reopen — regardless of how tempting conditions might get — until the end of March. But even that’s the kind of season that’s music to the ears of many of Ontario’s golfers.
“Some clubs in Essex will open the first part of March,” says Quick. “It’s not uncommon to be able to play 18 holes in March in Essex County. We don’t get a lot of snow, and often we have a green Christmas. And when it snows, it usually doesn’t last long.”
Since it’s far away from Toronto’s bright lights, Windsor-Essex also enjoys some of the country’s most reasonable real estate prices, even for waterfront locations. In fact, county promoters have been playing up the angle of shirtsleeve weather and lower housing prices in a campaign aimed at attracting the active 50-plus crowd. Real estate agents say they’ve noticed an upswing in inquiries from the GTA and colder parts of Canada.
Even the birds agree Essex County’s weather is pleasant. Point Pelee, which juts out into Lake Erie at the county’s — and Canada’s — most southerly spot, is the last place migratory species say farewell to in the fall, and the first one they come back to in the spring. For that reason, thousands of birders flock to Leamington and area to observe the spring and fall migrations.
Phillips says that if Windsor-Essex takes top honours in the shirtsleeve sweepstakes, then St. Catharines-Niagara comes a close second, while not far behind in third spot is Sarnia.
“It’s on account of a combination of that southerly latitude, and the proximity of the Great Lakes,” explains Phillips. “The lakes warm up in summer and they hold their heat as the land cools off. That’s why we’re able to grow such great grapes for wine-making in Essex and Niagara.”
Then come spring, the lakes act as a refrigerator someone’s left the door open to, cooling the land in their immediate vicinity and retarding the tender fruit blossoms just long enough to avoid a late killer frost. But in the meantime, those warm southerly breezes flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico have again enveloped Ontario’s southwesterly region, letting the outdoor enthusiasts venture out to relish the early spring weather before any other part of Ontario.
Proof is in the historical weather records
A look at historical records shows Windsor’s mild temperature advantage is most pronounced in winter, when it’s most appreciated. January high temperatures average -0.9C in Windsor, -2.1 in Toronto and -6.1 in Ottawa. Also, Windsor-Essex won’t experience those minus 30-degree temperatures Ottawa is famous for come the last part of January.
The difference in average high daily temperatures in July is much less dramatic: Windsor 27.9, Toronto 26.8 and Ottawa 26.5.
Phillips says in most of Canada, autumn tends to be the shortest season, squeezed by summer up to the first of September, then winter arriving far too soon at the back end. But Windsor-Essex enjoys a prolonged fall, he says, staving off those early signs of winter a few more precious weeks and days, and letting warm-weather fans keep those sweaters packed away.
“Being near the water, anywhere, is conducive to enjoying a nice fall,” he adds. “The water holds the heat and people along the water get that longer, drawn-out fall. It’s even noticeable in Toronto, where you’ll get colder early temperatures at the (Pearson International) airport than you do at the lakeshore.
“I guess the best definition of a Canadian is, one who worries about winter before summer is even over,” Phillips chuckles. “But there’s always time in the fall when it seems there’s really nothing to worry about. Everything is well with the world.”
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — October 2010