As if spending a weekend in Ottawa (Canada) in the winter wasn’t enough, we decided to time our visit during the city’s popular Winterlude Festival. Armed with the festival’s handy app on my phone, I eagerly read aloud to my girls all of the activities that were happening in the Capital during our weekend visit.
Now in it’s 36th year, the festival transforms the city from its usual winter wonderland status to a full-on celebration of the winter season. Beautiful snow sculptures are scattered around the city and various parks are morphed into winter playgrounds.
The Rideau Canal, frozen into the word’s largest outdoor skating rink, is speckled with kiosks selling hot chocolate, snow-chilled maple syrup lollipops, poutine and the infamous Beaver Tails – sinful pastries made in the shape of a beaver’s tail and topped with chocolate hazelnut spread, cinnamon or maple butter – hello!
It’s easy to spend a whole day on the canal during Winterlude. There’s hockey games going on, skating shows and almost 8 kilometres of skating ice to cover. And they make it all so easy to enjoy. Benches for changing into skates, sleighs to rent, washrooms and locker facilities and even the odd wood burning fire to sit around and warm up before continuing on.
We spent half a day on the canal and then headed over to the Crystal Garden (also known as Confederation Park) to take in the ice sculptures and outdoor musical entertainment. My girls raced from one thing to the next, in awe of each sculpture. They even added their own finishing touches to a few ‘interactive’ sculptures that were in-the-works. Just before leaving the park we spotted the festival mascots – he and she Ice Hogs. I’m not sure what a ice hog is (or if it’s even a real animal), but my girls seemed thrilled to see them.
Day 2 we were up early and pulling into the parking lot at Jacque-Cartier park -renamed The Snowflake Kingdom during the festival – by 9am. Fantastic. The ultimate outdoor winter playground. We tried kick sledding, snow-fort building, had a photo op in a real bobsled and raced down various ice slides on our bums and large inflatable tubes – soooo fun! There was even an Xtreme section that offered sub-zero trampolining, zip-lining and go-carting. We stayed until we couldn’t feel our toes anymore.
When we finally arrived back to our hotel at the end of the day EVERYTHING was dirty. Our boots were covered in slush and road salt and our snow jackets and gloves were caked in maple syrup, hazelnut spread and the kind of runny-nose smears that only a day outside in the cold can produce. THAT’S a day well spent.