What do you do to survive if winter lasts four months, with sunny daytime temperatures that hover around the freezing point, nighttime chill factor temps as low as -40°, and no official holidays between New Year’s and Easter?
If you live in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, you enjoy Winterlude, the continent’s greatest and most varied winter frolic. It lasts for two weeks every February, with the main events taking place on weekends, so as to be accessible to as many participants as possible. There is something for everyone, and hundreds of thousands come from Canada and abroad to enjoy the good fun.
The “world’s longest rink” – a five mile section of the Rideau Canal – is open daily for skating, and also features amateur hockey games, sledge hockey, outdoor curling, and outdoor exhibitions by world figure skating champions. There are also snowshoe races, hot air balloon rides, and a grueling winter triathlon.
Across the Ottawa River in Hull there is a children’s playground with snow slides, sleigh and dogsled rides, and children’s theatre. Cross-country ski races (“loppets”) of up to 30 miles challenge top international competitors. For indoor spectators there are Major Junior, college and “Senators” NHL hockey, professional lacrosse, figure skating extravaganzas, and rock concerts. Cultural activities, as provided by the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Corel Centre, the diplomatic corps, Ottawa’s two universities and its many national museums also play major roles.
In honour of their centennial year, the central theme in 2001 was Australia. The friendly “Aussies” provided a film festival, chamber orchestra, aboriginal dance, music and storytelling, and art and photo exhibits. They also created the sculptures which are the festival’s main focal point.
Snow and ice sculpting are probably the most unique features of Winterlude. Working in below freezing temperatures, every year sculptors from around the world transform hundreds of tons of ice blocks into glittering works of art near City Hall.
This year, the Australians created a pair of 15-foot boxing kangaroos, an enormous model of the famous Sydney opera house, a koala in a tree, giant boomerangs, and more. Across the street a “crystal garden” came alive with dozens of gorgeous 6 to 10 foot ice sculptures on a wide variety of themes of the artists’ choice.
On nearby Parliament Hill, the 13 provinces and territories vied to produce the finest snow sculptures in one day, using giant 12 by 12 by 16 foot blocks of snow placed there for that purpose.
Winter may be cold in Ottawa, but with Winterlude it’s certainly not dull!
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