In Windsor, Ont., one of Canada’s hottest cities, no AC can mean health risks and finding ways to keep cool

Categories: Canada


Urban Heat Project

For CBC’s Urban Heat Project, Windsorites share the impact high temperatures have on health

Posted: July 14, 2023
Last Updated: 10 Hours Ago

Gregory Walton takes a much-needed sip of ice water, one of his methods to stay cool in his fifth floor apartment. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Finding it a bit steamy this summer? You’re not alone. Across Canada, people say they are really feeling the heat, especially in their homes. And we’re tracking it. CBC teams have installed temperature and humidity sensors in dozens of homes in several cities, including Windsor, Ont., to see just what happens to people when things go from hot to sizzling to seriously dangerous. This is one of those stories. 

The air is thick like butter in the lungs, with sweat beads forming instantly upon exposure to the powerful sun.

It’s a typical though slightly hotter June afternoon, even with some clouds scattered in the sky, in Windsor, Ont. — Canada’s southernmost city, where temperatures can skyrocket up to 40 degrees or more with the humidex reading. 

It makes having air conditioning less of a luxury and more of a necessity. But for locals like Gregory Walton who are on a limited budget, such cooling units are not within reach.

At 51, Walton lives on the fifth floor of a brick building constructed in the 1960s. All of his windows face west, and with walls made of plaster and a ceiling of cinder blocks, the conditions are ripe for heat retention.

“When it gets hot in here, the walls, and the floors and everything add to the overall heat level. There’s no place in my apartment for a cross-draft to form,” he explained.

“And so that’s something else that I have to contend with.”

A line of people wait to get food at a Windsor food bank, located at Adie Knox in the city’s West end. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Walton is among several Windsorites who have agreed to participate in CBC’s Urban Heat Project
this summer, allowing our team to collect hard data about the temperature and humidity in his apartment, and monitor the impact high temperatures could have on mental and physical health. 

Sitting on the 42nd parallel, Windsor is so far south that it lines up with cities like Rome and Barcelona across the Atlantic. 

Walking more strenuous in the heat

On the day Walton was interviewed by CBC, he had used one of the city’s food banks. By noon, the queue for the food banks started to dissipate, with a handful of recipients either waiting for the bus or hesitantly turning back around to walk home — a walk that was a more strenuous journey than usual in the scorching air. 

Walton knew that once he returned home, he would be implementing his routine of strategically placing fans throughout his apartment and either opening or closing his windows — depending on the time of the day and how his apartment was holding heat in that moment.

It’s a methodology he developed out of necessity, but is lucky to have an understanding of, he said.

WATCH | Greg Walton gives us a tour of his apartment and explains how he keeps it cool:

Show more

Windsor resident Greg Walton shows his apartment in West Windsor, how the heat comes and stays in along with how he keeps cool.  4:18

“I’m a jack of all trades,” said Walton, an electrician who’s currently looking for work.

“I’ve just been doing different work my whole life, so I understand a little bit about the mechanics of how heat is retained through concrete and plaster and stuff, so I’ve been able to make my own inferences, like, ‘OK, I need to put a bigger fan here, and here I might need to keep the window open longer just to facilitate some air passage.’

“When it gets hot in here, the walls and the floors and everything add to the overall heat level,” he said. “There’s no place in my apartment for a cross-draft to form, and so that’s something else that I have to contend with.”

Walton waters some of his houseplants, which he says can be another indicator of the hot and humid conditions in his apartment. (TJ Dhir/CBC )

Walton said he was given the option of having air conditioning in his apartment when he moved in, but he couldn’t afford it. 

“When I signed my lease, my landlord informed me that for an additional $100 a month, I could have an A/C unit installed in my apartment,” he said.

“I already don’t have an air conditioner to begin with … I’d have to go buy one on top of that cost. It’s just not worth it economically for me to have to pay [for].

“Those high 30s [C], low 40s days are pretty hard,” said Walton. “Basically, I have to have all my windows fully open, all the fans going all of the time, just to get air moving around my apartment.” 

A temperature and humidity monitor installed in Walton’s apartment will be logging data over a six-week period this summer. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

Now, in mid-July, according to our measurements in Walton’s apartment, there have been evenings where the temperature has reached internal temperatures up to 32 C with 50 per cent humidity.

According to some experts, this could have serious health consequences. 

Professor Glen Kenny, research chair in Environmental Physiology at the University of Ottawa, says senior aren’t able to restore their body’s ‘heat balance’ during extreme temperatures and high humidity as quickly as younger adults can. (University of Ottawa)

Glen Kenny is a researcher and professor of physiology at the University of Ottawa who has been studying the impact of rising temperatures on human health, especially for vulnerable populations like the elderly or those with chronic illnesses.

His lab is home to the world’s only direct air calorimeter, a specialized device that measures heat stress on human bodies.

“[Temperatures between] 26 and 31 degrees are going to be risky for some older adults,” said Kenny.

“Everything may feel OK, but what you’re not seeing is dysfunction, cellular dysfunction.”

According to Kenny’s research, human cells can begin to self-destruct after long periods of heat stress. 

A graph displaying the temperature discrepancies between the inside of Gregory’s apartment and the outdoor temperature, as measured by the nearest Environment and Climate Change Canada weather station. (Dexter McMillan / CBC)

“It gets worse when you get to 31 degrees. The cells are under stress, and when the cells are under stress, they can’t do their job of maintaining structure, cleaning things up, making sure everything is functioning normally. So we are starting to see [that] slow degradation.”

Getting overheated can interfere with sleep

Walton does not have any major health conditions, but the hot summer weather still affects his day-to-day life in other ways that could be of concern over a long period of time.

“When the summer months come around, I only average about maybe five or six hours of sleep a night and I work heavy manual labour, so I really do need my rest.”

Windsorite Gregory Walton sits on his living room couch. In the background, one of his several fans and a boarded up section of wall that used to hold an air conditioner. Walton’s landlord charges $100 a month to use an air conditioner in the unit. (Josiah Sinanan/CBC)

According to Walton, those consecutive days of heat are even more problematic, leaving him feeling more irritable and just wishing for a good night’s rest. 

“The heat makes me more snappy, more aggressive.

“You’re sweating all night, you’re sticky, it’s just not comfortable, especially when you’re trying to get your rest and you’re constantly having to change your T-shirt, or drink some cold water, or splash your face or make the fan stronger.”

Air quality in Windsor was among the worst in the world in late June 2023, as wildfires rage in northeastern Canada and Quebec. (Dax Melmer/CBC)

During the week of June 26, Windsor was home to not only high temperatures, but also one of the worst air quality ratings in the world, due to smoke from forest fires in northern Ontario and Quebec. 

“The forest fires coinciding with some really hot days made it practically unbearable,” said Walton.

“I couldn’t do anything about it because I need to ventilate my space. At some point I just had to go outside because it was too hot in here.” 

Despite the strain on his day-to-day living, Walton has learned to adjust. 

“If it really gets bad, I can just always go take a walk down by the [Detroit River] and cool off. So there are alternatives to just sitting in my house and roasting,” he said.

“Maybe you reposition the fan. Maybe you move closer to the window. You got to work a little magic and you find your comfort zone.”

Throughout the summer, CBC News will continue to share stories from families who agreed to take part in our Urban Heat Project in Windsor. 


Josiah Sinanan


Josiah Sinanan is originally from Calgary and is now a reporter with CBC Windsor. His work can be found on Southwestern Ontario’s “Afternoon Drive” radio program and previously “Canada Tonight” and “The Key of A.” You can contact him at

With files from TJ Dhir

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