The Wonders of Winterlude in Canada’s Capital City
Revel in the beauty of this enchanting snow-covered season with a trip to historic Ottawa to celebrate Winterlude. For three exciting weekends, between February 3 – 20, 2017, Canada’s capital city honours its unique northern climate and culture during this annual affair. This year’s event offers a flurry of activities for people of all ages, with a special focus highlighting the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.
Stay at Ottawa’s luxurious castle, the Fairmont Château Laurier, and you’ll be in the ideal spot to experience all the joys of Winterlude. This turn-of-the-century architectural gem sparkles from the banks of the Rideau Canal, offering a warm, sophisticated welcome that reflects the style of its home city.
With a snowstorm of fun events to choose from each weekend, it’s hard to know where to start.
Carving, Skating, Celebrating
Winterlude’s official kick-off is on February 3, at 9:30 a.m. at Jacques-Cartier Park. But before that, head over to Confederation Park at 8:00 a.m. to witness the One-Block Challenge. Watch as ice carvers from around the world are given a single block of ice and two hours to complete a unique sculpture in this exciting carving competition.
Afterwards, lace up your skates and participate in one of Winterlude’s quintessential activities, skating on the world’s longest naturally frozen skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway. The frozen surface of the canal, Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, is buffed and polished by a special Zamboni, transforming it into a smooth-as-glass surface that runs 7.8 kilometres from the city centre all the way to Dow’s Lake. If you don’t own a pair of skates, you can rent one at the downtown entrance near the National Arts Centre or midway along the canal near the Fifth Avenue entrance. If skating isn’t your thing, get pushed in one of the bright red sleds that are available for rent along the route.
Canadian Culinary Delights
Starting to feel chilly? Cozy up to a fire in one of the warming huts you’ll find along the canal. Sip a hot chocolate and savor a Canadian culinary specialty, the BeaverTail pastry. These deep-fried, golden pastries are shaped like a beaver’s tail and are best eaten warm and covered with cinnamon and sugar.
In addition to finding BeaverTails at stands along the canal, you can also find them at a permanent kiosk in ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest public markets. After you’ve licked all that delicious cinnamon sugar off your fingertips, stroll through the Market’s spectacular ByWard Blizzard Snow’Art exhibition and watch artists bring giant snow sculptures to life.
In the afternoon, take a break from skating and experience Fairmont Château Laurier’s Afternoon Tea in Zoé's Lounge. “This has become a Winterlude tradition for many of our guests,” says Deneen Perrin, Director of Public Relations at Fairmont Château Laurier. Admire the elegant furnishings and light-filled, glass atrium before turning your attention to the decadent selection of tiny open-faced sandwiches and homemade blueberry and buttermilk scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. When the tea cart arrives at your table, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the selection of loose leaf teas, the tea sommelier can offer recommendations and then prepare your beverage tableside.
Playtime and Family Fun
Back outside, the celebratory atmosphere of playfulness surrounds you as stilt walkers in colourful costumes amble past, acrobats flip through the air and you encounter dance and cultural performances. For children, the ultimate playtime experience requires a visit to Jacques-Cartier Park.
During Winterlude, the park transitions into Snowflake Kingdom, one of the world’s largest snow playgrounds. The park, open Thursdays to Mondays, provides children the opportunity to zipline over the kingdom, race through a giant snow maze and zoom down their choice of slides. Best of all, they meet Ottawa’s famous Ice Hog family, beloved mascots of Winterlude. Mr. and Mrs. Ice Hog and their twins, Nouma and Noumi, are a family of magical, furry creatures who love everything about winter, especially celebrating the season during the festival. They’ve been spotted skating on the Rideau Canal, playing on snow structures in the Snowflake Kingdom and posing for pictures. So be sure to have your camera ready.
If you’re in town on February 11, another event you’ll want to have your camera for is the annual Accora Village Bed Race. Make your way down to the southern end of the canal and grab a spot along the shores of Dow’s Lake before 1:00 p.m. Here you’ll witness teams dressed in crazy costumes racing huge decorated beds down a 50-metre course on the frozen lake. A team from Fairmont Château Laurier participates in this event every year, says Perrin. It’s a highlight of Winterlude and guaranteed to make you laugh!
On February 17 – 18, witness history in the making during the first Ice Dragon Boat Festival in North America. In this new, cold-weather variation of the summer sport, ice boats retain their traditional long, narrow shape and colourful dragon head and tail, but they seat 12 people instead of 20, have special brakes and the rowers, or “paddlers,” propel the boat using long poles with flat studded bases that grip the ice. Cheer on international teams as they slide along the surface of Dow’s Lake on a six-lane, 350-metre course.
When the Stars Come Out
There’s nothing like slipping out under the starlight to experience the delights of Winterlude at night. Start with a visit to the Crystal Garden in Confederation Park. During the day, internationally renowned ice carvers work their magic. But nighttime is the best time to see these glistening works of art. Special coloured lights transform the icy masterpieces into a luminous winter wonderland. Look for the special ice cake sculpture dedicated by the European union delegation to Canada to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. You can vote online for your favorite sculpture.
If you’re a confident skater, go for a nighttime skate. It’s a memorable experience, and the ice is much less crowded than it is during the day. Later, shake off the cold and groove to live music or DJ mixes that transform outdoor corners into pulsing, dance-filled spaces. When you’re ready to wind down, come in from the cold and slip into a comfortable, padded chair in Zoé's Lounge at the Fairmont Château Laurier. While soft piano music plays, relax and thaw out while sipping an Apple Spiced Tea cocktail, a warming blend of apple brandy and Swiss Goldschläger cinnamon schnapps liqueur, an extraordinary end to an extraordinary day.
Holly Bowne is a passionate travel writer and photographer. Her journeys have carried her from the Champs Elysees of Paris to the cenotes of Mexico and beyond. Her work has appeared on FairmontMoments.com, You Go, We Go, and publications for luxury travel companies.
Parliament hill in Ottawa by littlenomad
Rideau Canal Skating Ring in Ottawa by Vladone
Melting Ice Queen by Photawa
Woman hands in gloves holding a mug by takoburito
Chinese dragon head by boboling