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Winterlude: A Canadian Tradition

Skating on the Rideau Canal is an essential Ottawa experience. Photo credit: NCC.

From Feb. 3 to 20, Ottawa transforms into a winter wonderland. This annual festival offers an abundance of indoor and outdoor activities, so we’ve rounded up some of the highlights from this classic Canadian event. By Misa Kobayashi.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 7.8 kilometres long, making it the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world (and one of the main attractions at Winterlude). Bring your own skates or rent a pair at the locations at Mackenzie King Bridge, Fifth Avenue, or Dows Lake Pavilion. While seasoned skaters will love this outing, you’ll also find plenty of beginners lacing up their skates to traverse the rink and take in the pretty scenery. Other activities taking place on the canal include the 29th Annual Winterlude Triathlon (Feb. 4); the Accora Village Bed Race Presented by Allstream, where teams race modified beds down the ice (Feb. 4); the Great Canadian Beaver Cup Pond Hockey Classic (Feb. 10 to 12); and Portraits on the Ice, an outdoor art gallery installed under the Bank Street Bridge (from mid-January to early March).

Visitors will be awe-struck by the works of art that emerge from blocks of ice at this “crystal garden.” Ice carvers produce pieces based on their interpretations of a theme, which in 2012 is “Nordic Passion.” The main event is the 25th Rogers International Ice Carving Competition on opening weekend (Feb. 3 to 5) with 35 sculptors. There will also be a One-Block Challenge using a single piece of ice that must be completed in two hours or less (Feb. 3), a head-to-head Ice Carving Championship “ice-off” (Feb. 12), and an ice carving challenge for members of the public (Feb. 18). This year will also feature specially commissioned carvings, including one for the Queen’s Jubilee, one for the JUNO Awards taking place in Ottawa in April, and one to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Balkan War. The sculptures remain on display until the end of Winterlude, and they’re especially breathtaking when lit up at night.

Children will have a blast at the Snowflake Kingdom. Photo credit: NCC.

This is the biggest snow playground on the continent with more than 20 slides constructed from snow and ice (you’re going to want to wear your snow pants here). Take part in a ton of activities inspired by the Canadian winter and Northern traditions. On site you’ll find snow sculptures, obstacle courses, kicksleds, roving performers, kite flying, and — new this year — 50th anniversary celebrations for the Canadian Coast Guard and “Yukon Days” with performances by Yukon artists (Feb. 3 to 5). Note: Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout Winterlude.

Ottawa’s exciting food scene takes centre stage during this annual event that runs Jan. 26 to Feb. 19. Some of the capital’s top restaurants, shops, and food businesses are offering more than 35 dining experiences, food tours and demos, and other culinary outings. Events include a 12-course Seinfeld-themed dinner at Atelier featuring more than 100 of the sitcom’s food references, a walking tour of chocolatiers and chocolate vendors in the ByWard Market, the “Savour Ottawa Gastronomic Winter Escapade” featuring a four-course meal served at four locations, a Winter Wines and Beers tasting event in Gatineau, an “Indian Comfort Food” cooking demonstration and wine pairings, and many more. Activities range from free to $250.

Enjoy a fireworks spectacle for the American Express Winterlude Opening on Feb. 3. Photo credit: NCC.

The American Express Winterlude Opening on Feb. 3, which features musical fireworks and outdoor activities. Best viewed from the banks of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and from 5pm to 11pm the museum is offering free admission.

Ottawa Fashion Week, from Feb. 17 to 19 at the Westin Hotel. This collaboration will showcase national and international designers with runway shows and other events.

Chill Factor, a collaboration with the Downtown Rideau BIA, features a collection of high fashion, cuisine, and cultural events. Highlights include a film screening with 10 local filmmakers, a party and visual art exhibit, theatre shows, a Winter Jazz Festival, a party and music show, and much more. Runs Feb. 2 to 20 and activities range from free to $25.

Cool Science Saturdays at the museums offer cold weather themed activities for families. Featuring “Frozen in Space” at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum (Feb. 4), “Cool Science” at the Canadian Museum of Nature (Feb. 11), and “Cool Science Saturday” at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (Feb. 18).

The annual ByWard Market Stew Cook-Off on Feb. 3 is a friendly competition among area businesses. For $10, have all the stew you can eat and vote for your favourite. Proceeds go to charity.

Snowshoe Under the Stars takes place in Gatineau Park on Feb. 3 and 17 and gives you the opportunity to trek under the crisp night sky.

For the complete line-up of events, locations, and other information, see www.winterlude.gc.ca or call 613-239-5000.

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