Winter and Canada are synonymous with each other as snow covered landscapes are often what people think of first when I tell them I’m from the Great White North. While we do have warmer, summer months, we spend about 4 – 5 months of the year under a blanket of snow (depending on what part of Canada you’re in). Since winter is such a large part of being Canadian, someone long ago had the brilliant idea to create a winter festival to celebrate this colder time of year.
What is Winterlude?
Winterlude is the outdoor winter festival held every year in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. As February begins so does this world famous festival. Each year thousands of people descend upon the city to celebrate winter and all things frozen. With ice sculpture contests, giant snow slides, hot chocolate, maple taffy and Beavertails, this is a truly Canadian experience.
The Rideau Canal Skateway
The main attraction at Winterlude is the Rideau Canal Skateway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each year a 7.8 km long section of ice is groomed and prepped to create the longest skating rink in the world. The skateway begins downtown Ottawa behind the National Arts Center (across from Parliament) and winds its way south to finish at Dow’s Lake. Along the way you’ll find vendors, rest stops and bonfires to warm up, set up right on the ice.
Visitors can rent skates from various locations along the canal and they even have giant sleighs that can be pushed along the ice for those who opt out of skating.
The When, Where & How of Winterlude
Winterlude takes place every year during the first 2 weeks of February. However, the canal itself can be open any time during the winter months, weather dependent.
The focus of Winterlude is to showcase the canal, but events take place in various locations throughout downtown Ottawa and across the Ottawa River in Jacques Cartier Park, Gatineau, Quebec.
Confederation Park turns into a Crystal Garden and is the heart of the festival. Located beside the beginning of the canal, it hosts outdoor concerts, ice sculpting contests, children’s play areas and vendors selling Canadian treats such as maple taffy, Beaver Tails, hot chocolate and various other treats.
Take a ride over to Quebec and visit Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques Cartier Park, complete with a giant snow slide. There’s a free Snow Bus shuttle service that takes visitors between the various Winterlude sites so you can be sure not to miss anything.
After spending a few hours exploring Winterlude you may want to grab a meal or a pint of beer. The Byward Market in downtown Ottawa is the perfect place to experience Ottawa’s amazing gastronomy scene. As you wander the streets you’ll also find Winterlude snow sculptures scattered throughout the market place.
This event celebrates Canadian culture and I thoroughly enjoy attending this festival every year. If you’re visiting Canada in the winter months be sure to stop by Winterlude to experience something truly Canadian.