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Family Fun at the Ottawa Winterlude Festival: Skate the Rideau Canal at this Winter Carnival in Canada’s Capital

Published by Jan Zecca

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The Ottawa Winterlude festival is the largest celebration of Canada’s most dominant season: winter. There are plenty of chilly activities to keep families busy during the three fun-filled weekends in early February. The Bal de Neige, as it is called in Ontario’s neighboring province of Quebec, promises plenty of winter fun for a winter family vacation.

Crystal Garden Ice Sculptures at Winterlude

From fire-breathing dragons to grand palaces, ice-carving artists create perishable sculptures from ice and display them in the beautifully lit Crystal Garden. Artists create the sculptures to compete in an ice-sculpture contest, the International Ice-Carving Competition. Over the first days of Winterlude, watch as individual artists and pairs work on their creations. Then stop by during the remainder of the festival to see the ice sculptures on display.

During the day, visitors can examine some of the ice sculptures (like an ice putting green) up close. In the evening the ice sculptures are illuminated with white and colored lights. Find the Crystal Garden ice sculptures in Confederation Park, across from City Hall at Elgin St. and Laurier Avenue West.

Skate the Rideau Canal, Ottawa

At 7.8 km (4.8 miles) in length, the Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s largest skating rink. The Skateway connects Carleton University to downtown Ottawa, the Château Laurier, and the Parliament buildings. While the Skateway includes only the area cleared for skating, the full length of the Rideau Canal stretches for more than 200 km.

Whether you’re a whiz on ice or prefer to watch, skating on the Rideau Canal tops the list of perfect ways to enjoy a Canadian winter. Rideau Canal skate rentals (as well as sleigh rentals) are available from Capital Skates at the following locations on the Skateway:

  • National Arts Centre (closest location to downtown Ottawa), (613) 233-7980
  • Fifth Ave., by Landsdowne Park, (613) 233-7980

A third location run by Dow’s Lake Pavillion can be found further south:

  • Dows Lake Pavilion, Queen Elizabeth Dr., (613) 232-1001

Snow Sculptures at Winterlude Celebrations in Gatineau, Quebec

The National Snow Sculpture Competition shows the work created by snow-sculpture artists from all regions of Canada. Artists carve the snow sculptures on location, giving form and life to massive blocks of snow. Head to Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau (the Quebec sister-city to Ottawa), which lies just across the Ottawa River to see the chilly sculptures.

Winterlude Accommodations in Ottawa, Ontario

The official Winterlude hotels are the luxurious and historic Fairmont Château Laurier, and The Westin Ottawa, which is close to downtown. Both offer expansive services to guests.

The large wood-burning fireplaces in the Fairmont Château Laurier are a great spots to warm up after a day in the fresh, winter air. For a sweet warm-up, sip a hot chocolate from Daly’s Coffee Bar at The Westin Ottawa.

Other Tips for Ottawa Travel

In addition to snow sculptures, Jacques Carier Park in Gatineau constructs snow slides, while Confederation Park downtown hosts Winterlude concerts. And of course, there is the essential Winterlude cuisine of a beaver tail—a fried pastry often topped with cinnamon and sugar.

Remember that Winterlude is a celebration of winter, so be sure to bring appropriate clothing for playing in the snow. Don’t forget a “tuque” (Canadian for winter hat), mittens, and scarf, then join the residents of Ottawa and Gatineau as they celebrate winter.

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