Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: February 2018
Every winter Ottawa hosts Winterlude – a three-week festival to celebrate winter. The city is transformed into a winter wonderland with ice and snow sculptures scattered around the downtown core. But its main draw is the Rideau Canal Skateway. At 7.8 kilometres long, when completely frozen, it forms the largest skating rink the world.
We visited Ottawa during Winterlude two years ago. But due to an extreme cold warning (we’re talking -42°C with the windchill) we were unable to spend much time outdoors let alone skate on the canal. So this year we were ready for a second chance.
Day 1: Ice Ice Baby
I flew into Ottawa the night before from Toronto while K drove up from Boston. One of my sisters lives in Nepean (a small suburb just outside of Ottawa) so we planned to stay with her over the next few days during the last weekend of Winterlude. It’s been a pretty consistently inconsistent winter. And the days leading up to our visit to Ottawa temperatures soared above freezing. Plus with a mixture of rain the day before, all plans of cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park were squashed. But we were still hopeful that we’d finally be able to skate along the Rideau Canal. Just not today though. The entire Skateway was closed off on account of the warm weather. But temperatures were expected to plummet to -18°C overnight. So we remained optimistic.
We spent the morning playing around with my nieces and watching some of the coverage for the Winter Olympics in the background. We left my sister’s house shortly after 12p.m and headed downtown. K booked a room at the Chateau Laurier for tonight to celebrate a belated Valentine’s Day. And since their parking garage was closed (and we didn’t want to fork over $45 for valet parking – that’s just ridiculous) we dropped our car off at the parking garage by Confederation Park (it seemed like a pretty central location) and walked over to the hotel. We checked in, dropped off our bags, and headed back out. To Confederation Park. Along the way we walked around Parliament Hill.
Confederation Park is one of the highlights of Winterlude. It features a number of elaborately carved ice sculptures. And every Friday and Saturday evening during Winterlude the park hosts a series of concerts showcasing a variety of Canadian artists and entertainers. But the warm weather and rain definitely took its toll on some of the ice sculptures (see the below picture – some limbs are missing).
From Confederation Park we walked a few blocks to the Royal Canadian Mint. Founded in 1908 the Mint is responsible for producing all the Canadian coins in circulation, collector and commemorative coins, gold bullion coins, medals and medallions. A facility was later opened in Winnipeg to handle producing all the Canadian coins for circulation while the Ottawa facility focusses on producing all other types of coins and medals.
Entrance into the Mint includes a 45 minute guided tour around the facility to see the various machines and mechanisms for producing and designing each hand-crafted collector and commemorative coin made from precious metals – including the first million dollar coin in the world. Along the tour we also learned about the unique process for creating the medals awarded during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Each gold, silver, and bronze medal is a one-of-a-kind piece from a hand-cropped section of a large orca whale (for the Olympics) and a raven (for the Paralympics).
By the time we finished up our tour the sun was starting to set. We leisurely strolled back to our hotel to figure out our game plan for dinner.
By the time we headed back out it was pretty chills outside so we donned an extra layer. We walked a couple blocks to the ByWard Market – the heart of downtown Ottawa where many of its commercial shops, boutiques, and restaurants are clustered. We went for dinner and drinks at the Lowertown Brewery.
After dinner we headed back over to Confederation Park to check out the Friday night SubZero concert series. And let’s be real, snag more free hot chocolate and cookies.
There were definitely more people congregated in the park than earlier in the day. And this time we had to wait in line for maybe 10 minutes or so to see the ice sculptures in the Crystal Garden. But it was worth it. Plus we were kinda diggin’ the French rap music from the stage.
Day 2: Miracle on Ice
The Rideau Canal reopened as of 8 a.m this morning. After getting ready, we checked out of our hotel bright and early and headed back to Confederation Park to drop our bags off at the car. From there we walked down the block in search of a decent place to eat breakfast. We settled on The Scone Witch (which was an excellent call). The place was starting to get busy by the time we left and we noticed a good number of people who brought their own skates with them. So we were eager to get down to the Canal to avoid the crowds. Plus, we needed to rent skates.
We headed back towards Confederation Park and headed down to one of the access points to the Rideau Canal. Luckily the skate rental place opened earlier than what was posted online. And luckily we didn’t need to wait in line long. We traded our boots in for skates, laced up, and were ready to hit the ice. Literally. It’s been more than a few years since we last went skating. And there was definitely a bit of an adjustment period for me to go from figure skates to hockey skates. But both of us managed to stay upright the entire time despite some questionable wobbly moments. Granted we didn’t skate very far. We started just after the 0.0 mark and turned around at the 2.0 km mark. The skates we rented were starting to dig into the side of my one foot in an awkward and painful way after a while.
Once we were back on steady ground we met up with my sister, her husband, and their three girls and toured around the ice sculptures at Confederation Park for a third (and final) time.
We piled back into our vehicles and drove across the Ottawa River to the Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park. The park is transformed into a winter playground complete with a variety of snow sculptures and giant snow slides. The park is a complete kid magnet. We arrived in time to see a bunch of carnies performing tricks. There were six in total: one juggled, one contorted her body into a series of extremely flexible poses, one performed a series of jumps and hops with a bike, and the remaining three (which were the highlight of the show) jumped from a high platform onto a trampoline and performed a series of flips and twists and tricks.
We then stood in line to go tubing down the ice slides. There were five in total with two separate lines. The first time we didn’t have much of a wait in line for the three “smaller” slides (they all looked the same size to me). One of the volunteer staff hands you a tube at the bottom, you walk up the path to the top, and when it’s your turn you just sit on your tube and another volunteer gives you a push to get started. And away you go. It was pretty legit. The second line is for the two larger slides and uses a double tube. The line was longer and you had to wait longer because there are less tubes and one less slide. Turns out the smaller slides were better – and not just because of the smaller wait times (well, only partly because of that), the single tube covers less surface area so you go faster down the ice slide.
We wrapped up at the Snowflake Kingdom in the late afternoon and together headed back to my sister’s place. We made an early dinner and spent the remainder of the evening watching more of the Olympic coverage (since it was hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea, due to the time difference, many of the events took place early in the morning or late at night for us). We got really into the men’s curling.
Day 3: Tobogganing
When you’re sleeping in a room next to the kids there’s no such thing as sleeping in. We woke up pretty early and spent the morning just lounging around, eating breakfast, and watching more of the Olympic coverage. A snow storm was forecasted to hit Boston later in the afternoon so K left pretty early in an effort to beat the snow.
As for the rest of us, we spent our afternoon tobogganing at a nearby park in my sister’s neighbourhood. Since the temperatures have been mild in the days leading up to the weekend and freezing overnight, the hill was pretty much a solid sheet of ice. Perfect conditions for sledding. The hill was surprisingly pretty legit. I’m not sure what was more fun: going down the hill at high-speed or watching a bunch of other adults and children wipe out left right and centre. So much fun.
With all the excitement from spending our afternoon tobogganing down an ice hill we were pretty exhausted. Except for my nieces. They have way to much energy. We spent the remainder of the day back at my sister’s paying games.
I flew home the next day. While temperatures may have been unseasonably warm this winter (which took a visible toll on Winterlude), we managed to have a great long weekend. And finally were able to skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway.
L & K