What happens if you take the “winter” out of Winterlude? With mild weather in the forecast, Ottawa may be about to find out.
“We have no control over the weather … Mother Nature doesn’t always agree with us,” says Katherine Cyr, a spokeswoman for the Department of Canadian Heritage. “But regardless of the weather, there is something happening for everyone at Winterlude.”
Organizers always have a backup plan. For example, if a warm spell curbs access to the Rideau Canal Skateway, viable elements will be moved off ice. Cyr says any program changes will be posted on the festival website and social media feeds. (Outdoor refrigerated rinks at City Hall and Lansdowne Park are also options for skaters.)
Beyond the canal, the 38th Winterlude has two other official locations: Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park, and the Crystal Garden in Confederation Park — where Quebec singer-songwriter Gregory Charles will kick-off this year’s festival on Friday.
There’s a blizzard of official and partner programming over Winterlude’s 18-day run, so we fought our way through the flurry to uncover 16 things not to miss in 2016:
1. Subzero Concert Series: This new, free performance series will heat up Confederation Park Friday and Saturday nights. Highlights include A Tribe Called Red (Jan. 30), Terra Lightfoot (Feb. 5), Ottawa’s Hilotrons (Feb. 12) and Whitehorse (Feb. 13). The latter duo, married songwriters Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, happen to hit the stage on Valentine’s Day weekend; Cyr says the show is an ideal Winterlude “date night.”
2. Above Zero Concerts: Indoor music options include two shows at City Hall: Chamberfest delivers Jesse Stewart and Johannes Welsch (Feb. 11 at 12:15 p.m.), and the Regimental Band of the Governor General’s Foot Guards (Feb. 7 at 2 p.m.) will play with Force, including the Star Wars medley.
3. Snowmania: The Glebe will be invaded by snowmen (finally!) in this event challenging businesses and residents to build snowmen on their front lawns, or along Bank Street, and share pictures using the hashtag #Snowmania. It sets the stage for another snowman building challenge in Lansdowne on Jan. 31 that aims to reclaim the city’s former world record.
4. A Stone’s Throw Away: Take a timeout from hockey. Families are invited to learn Canada’s official winter sport: curling. Lansdowne offers Can You Hack It? — An Introduction to Curling on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Finally a way to teach your kids to “sweep” and “hurry!”
5. Snowtime 3-D (La Guerre des Tuques): Family Day weekend (Feb. 12 and 13) will bring this 3-D animation experience and activity zone to JC Park. Kids can play with their favourite characters from the official Sundance movie; activities will include “fake” Styrofoam snowball fights, and fort building.
6. Art in the park: The can’t-miss public outdoor exhibit, Flora and Fauna, will shine thanks to large light-based installations inspired by Canada’s landscape. Speaking of which, one of many photo exhibits at Confederation Park will showcase the Arctic’s Sirmilik National Park (Jan. 29-31).
7. For History Buffs: Join The Franklin Expedition (January 29 to 31) at Maison Charron in JC Park (also Feb. 13 at City Hall). Hear from Parks Canada archeologists, take a tour of the HMS Erebus wreck, and check out reproductions of objects recovered from the ship. Winterlude will also pay tribute to Canadian milestones ahead of Confederation’s 150th anniversary, including the 175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s birth. Party on, Wilfrid!
8. Carve up the Competition: Of course, professional ice carvers from around the world will again showcase their skills in competition at Confederation Park. But locals can also prove they have ice in their veins by entering Lansdowne’s second annual Community Snow Sculpture Contest in Aberdeen Square (Jan. 30 — Feb. 5). This year’s theme is “Snow Creatures,” so expect a lot of abominable snowmen — or White Walkers from Game of Thrones. $1,750 in cash prizes will be awarded to the top four teams. Contestants can apply here.
9. Need for Speed? The Winterman Marathon and Marathon Relays, and annual Winterlude Triathlon, will challenge winter fitness buffs.
10. Time for Bed: For those who prefer the role of spectator, the annual costumed Bed Race (Feb. 6) is always a slippery site. “People literally race beds on the canal,” Cyr explains. “It’s a lot of fun.”
11. Inuit Circle: Visit Canada’s Arctic at JC Park. Inuit youth from the local Nunavut Sivuniksavut program will showcase traditional songs, including throat singing, and drum dances (Saturdays and Sundays, and Monday, Feb. 15).
12. Super Bowl Warmup: For the first time, the Blizzard Bowl — the annual football tournament organized by the Bytown Touch Football League — will take place on Lansdowne’s Great Lawn (Feb. 6). Adult teams of all skill levels (unless your cousin is Tom Brady) can sign up here.
13. The Mother of All Ice Sculptures: The National Research Council is celebrating its 100th birthday by creating a mammoth sculpture made from 100 blocks of ice. Is it too much to ask for an ice-wine toast?
14. Go to the Extreme: Hyper-active attendees can hit the XTREME Zone at JC Park, featuring dogsleds, zip lines, and ATVs. Kids can enjoy snow and tube slides.
15. Ice Cold Beer: Suds can be enjoyed at Winter Fantasies on Brewery Creek; Gatineau Winter Beerfest, and Lansdowne’s Winter Brewfest (Feb. 12 and 13).
16. Dance Party: A special $10 ticketed event on Feb. 14, The Heat is On, will turn Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion into a giant dancefloor featuring DJ Illo and DJ Psychology. Cupid has an open invitation.