So you’re coming to Ottawa for Winterlude with the little ones! You’ve got all the cozy winter gear packed up and you’re ready to have fun on the ice and in the snow. Hooray!
But as this beloved Ottawa winter festival stretches over three fun-filled weekends (from Jan. 29 to Feb. 15, 2016), how do you know where to start? That’s where we come in. We’ve put together this short list of family-friendly activities you won’t want to miss. Bundle up, bring a few snacks and get ready to have fun in the great Canadian outdoors!
Winterlude Kick-Off Party: Jan. 29, 2016, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Have dinner, then bundle up and head to Confederation Park, which also doubles as Winterlude’s Crystal Garden. Here, you’ll find many beautiful, intricately-carved ice sculptures as well as a celebration of the winter festival’s official launch. Get there a bit early to see the sculptures lit up with coloured lights – this is actually the best time to see them – then enjoy a parade, live music, Insolita (a percussion stage show) and Canadian entertainer Gregory Charles. The night then wraps up with an outdoor dance party! This event is FREE.
One-Block Challenge: Jan. 29, 2016, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
If you get into Ottawa the day before Winterlude begins, consider attending this fantastic early morning event. Taking place in Confederation Park, the One-Block Challenge invites ice carvers from around the world to participate in a carving competition. Each participant gets one block of ice and two hours to create a unique sculpture. This year’s Winterlude ice sculpture theme is Canada’s flora and fauna. If you’ve ever wondered how ice sculptures are made, this is an event you won’t want to miss. Make sure to have a camera ready!
Snowflake Kingdom: Open every day of Winterlude, except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays
If you have little ones or even teens, this is a Winterlude site you absolutely have to add to your festival ‘To do’ list. At Jacques-Cartier Park (located just across from the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.), you’ll find giant ice slides that delight at any age! Make sure to bring a pair of snowpants, so you can glide down all the slides as fast as possible. Either way, you’ll be having fun! New this year is the Chinook, an exciting tube snow slide. The Snowflake Kingdom is open on Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Entry into the park is FREE.
Also, if you have friends or family who are fans of the Winterlude mascots, the Ice Hogs, Jacques-Cartier Park/Snowflake Kingdom is the best place to see them! Though these characters are reputed to live under the thick, frozen ice of the Rideau Canal Skateway, they often appear at the park on the Snowflake Stage. Visit the Winterlude website for more information.
Rideau Canal Skateway: Open 24 hours a day, weather permitting
Each year, thousands upon thousands of skaters flock to the Rideau Canal to glide over its 7.8-kilometre (4.8-mile) naturally frozen surface. Typically open 24 hours a day from late January to early February, “the Canal,” as it’s known locally, is one of Winterlude’s quintessential activities. Lace up your skates and see how far you can go, as the Canal stretches from Ottawa’s lovely downtown core all the way to Dows Lake. And if you didn’t bring a pair of skates with you, don’t worry; you can rent some on the Canal at the downtown or the Fifth Avenue entrance. Adult and child sizes are available. If you’re with a very young child or a non-skater, red sleds are also available for rent.
On the Canal – among many other interactive activities – you’ll find the Winterlude Learn-to-Skate Program. On Saturdays and Sundays at the Fifth Avenue Skateway entrance, free 45-minute skating sessions are offered from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The Canal is also home to the Giant Tiger Interactive Hockey Zone, where kids can test their skills with activities such as the hardest shot, the most accurate shot, a hockey obstacle course and more!
If you’re on the Canal and you need to warm up, stop by a BeaverTails stand for a pastry and a hot chocolate. A beavertail is a deep-fried, golden, cinnamon and sugar pastry that is shaped like a beaver’s tail. This delicious treat was actually invented in Ottawa in 1978. There is nothing more Canadian than enjoying one on a pair of skates on the frozen Canal!
36th Annual Accora Village Bed Race: Feb. 6, 2016, 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Taking place on the Rideau Canal Skateway at Dows Lake, the Bed Race, which is organized by Allstream and the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa, is a fun event for all ages! Skate for a little bit on the Canal and then grab a spot at Dows Lake to see costumed teams race huge decorated beds down a 50-metre course. Make sure to bring a camera! This fundraising event benefits the Kiwanis Read-a-thon, other Kiwanis Club programs and the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation. There is a fee to participate in the race, but you can watch it for FREE.
Guinness World Record Attempt for the Most Snowmen Built in One Hour: Jan. 31, 2016, starting at 10:00 a.m.
Though this is not an official Winterlude event, it’s worth mentioning as it will be fun for the whole family! Presented as part of Cracking-Up the Capital, a comedy festival taking place in Ottawa from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 2016, this Guinness World Record attempt will take place on the field of TD Place at Lansdowne Park (located just south of Ottawa’s downtown core). Get the family together and help to build 3,000 snowmen! Tickets are required for this event and funds will go to help mental health agencies in Ottawa.
Winterlude at the Bytown Museum
Throughout the Winterlude festival, the Bytown Museum will be offering several special activities on weekends. Visit the Museum’s permanent collection and enjoy a #613History inspired selfie booth. Kids can take part in Snowflake-palooza, where they can craft their own beautiful snowflakes. Admission to the Bytown Museum will be reduced to $2 CDN during this time.
Also, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2016, you can enjoy Forged in Ice, the Museum’s annual ice carving demonstration by the Canadian Ice Carvers Society!
These are only some of the many events that will be going on in Ottawa. To learn more and to see a detailed schedule of activities, visit the official Winterlude website.
Also, Ottawa has many great attractions and special exhibits to offer during this famous winter festival. You can opt to book Ottawa Tourism’s Winterlude Family Fun package, which includes accommodations and family admission to one of the city’s great cultural attractions such as the Children’s Museum at the Canadian Museum of History and more.
To get more ideas on what to see and do with the little ones this winter, browse Ottawa Tourism’s website.