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I moved from India to Canada – and drove into a blizzard

Long before Varun Chhibber immigrated to Canada with his wife Namrata Singh in July 2020, they did their research.  

They studied maps. They read about Canadian culture and history on Wikipedia. They checked out average precipitation. And Varun talked to family and friends already in Canada about what to expect – especially when it came to winter.  

But it wasn’t until he was halfway through his first winter – in depths of February to be exact – that Varun faced the true test of Canadian immigration: driving in a blizzard.  

“My first driving lesson was in the middle of winter. It started snowing like crazy in the lesson,” he says. 

Having driven in Mumbai’s chaotic traffic and through its torrential rainy season, low visibility wasn’t new. But braking, signaling and driving on slippery surfaces definitely was. Instead of rescheduling the lesson, Varun pressed on.  

“The instructor was very vigilant and kept directing me, showing me what to look for, to drive at a safe speed rather than just the speed limit and about traction and braking,” he says.  

“In India, I was used to braking urgently for someone darting out into the street, but I was pretty surprised at the time it takes to slow down or brake in winter.”  

So, too, were the incredible swings in temperature a surprise – the variation between -30ºC to 30ºC seemed unreal until he experienced it for himself.  

Now settled into Ottawa as CAA North & East’s insurance marketing manager, Varun says he’s looking forward to the changing seasons, but will always love his first winter best, when he and Namrata raced outside to their terrace to Facetime with family back in Mumbai and share their wonder at their first snow fall.  

“Winter is fascinating to us. One day, it got to -27ºC, so we dressed up in our winter jackets to see if we’d be warm. I borrowed skates to take a few laps around the rink, holding the boards. And several times, I made snow angels.”  

Is there anything he hasn’t yet mastered about an Ontario winter?  

“I tried to make a snowman and failed miserably,” he chuckles. “That’s on our list of things to do this winter.”  

Varun’s tips for new winter drivers

  1. Expect the unexpected.
  2. Take winter driving lessons.
  3. Clean snow off your car and windscreen before you drive.
  4. Give yourself time and space to brake and get out of a skid.
  5. Install winter tires.
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