Growing up on the West Coast, I had never experienced real winter and, when I did for the first time, I wasn’t so sure I liked it. I had moved to Ottawa for school and was gearing up for some cold temperatures and a lot of snow. I was also prepared to hunker down in the warm confines of the school library and wait out the never-ending storm I perceived as winter.
The one winter activity I was willing to try was the winter celebration in Quebec City, Carnival, I had heard about as a child. Unfortunately, the hectic student life didn’t leave me the time to make it to Quebec. I was pretty disappointed until I found out that Ottawa has its own festival called Winterlude.
Winterlude is an annual three week festival in Ottawa that celebrates winter. It gives residents something to look forward to during the long winter months and draws in tourists from all around the world. The activities range from skating on the Rideau Canal to ice sculpture competitions to frozen canoe races through the icy Ottawa River.
The thing I loved most about Winterlude, and Ottawa in general during the winter, was skating on the Rideau Canal. It began to freeze in December and opened for public skating in January. Although I did know how to skate, I gave it a shot, fell on my butt a few times but found some love for winter that I never had before.
The canal runs through the entirety of Ottawa, connecting all parts of the city. I skated from school, to the mall down town in back in less than forty-five minutes. I skated at night and watched some friends play hockey by streetlight. My favourite day of skating was during Winterlude though. Despite the canal being unusually crowed, the ice was in good condition and the stall selling Beavertail** and hot chocolate rested on the canal, along with picnic tables to rest tired feet. Still an amateur skater, I slowly made my way through the crowds, hand in hand with friends absolutely enamoured with event. It truly made every romanticized winter fantasy come true. I highly recommend a leisurely skate on a clear day as the ultimate winter date.
Another thing I loved about Winterlude was the ice sculpture competition. Always a big art fan, I had never seen ice sculptures and was blown away by the precision and detailing going into each piece. My favourite was a sculpture of Cinderella’s carriage with the horses leading her away to Prince Charming – another childhood dream coming to life right before my eyes.
Finally, the canoe races through the Ottawa River brought some much needed excitement to the dreary winter. The short days and long cold night being to wear on Ottawa citizens and the adrenaline rush of a ridiculous sport such as portaging canoes over ice chunks and paddling through small, unfrozen channels in a heated race to the finish line.
I really loved Winterlude and I have never loved anything to do with winter in my life. People depressed from the long winter should definitely add Winterlude to their itinerary for next winter and people who don’t have real winter should make the trip out for the most Canadian event I have ever participated in.
** Beavertail (the food) is whole wheat pastry dough, put through a roller, stretched out to a beavertail-ish shape, and fried briefly in hot vegetable oil. The beavertail is then covered with melted butter and various toppings such as cinnamon and sugar.