Come celebrate Canadian winter fun during Winterlude in Canada’s capital region, February 1 to 18, 2019! This year, you’ll find your iconic festival favourites, as well as new experiences and locations. As always, you’ll be able to marvel at the sculptures created during the International Ice Carving Competition, skate on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway, and go crazy at Snowflake Kingdom. But many more indoor and outdoor activities await, all highlighting Canada’s cultural, artistic and culinary diversity!
Most festival activities are free and take place in the urban Ottawa-Gatineau region during the first three weekends of February (including Family Day, Monday, Feb. 18). Here’s your guide to the main festival sites in 2019.
Rideau Canal Skateway: epic skating memories
Grab your skates or rent a pair and glide along the Rideau Canal Skateway – the world’s largest naturally frozen ice skating rink. This 7.8 kilometre (4.8 mile) UNESCO World Heritage Site conveniently winds through downtown Ottawa within walking distance of most hotels! The Skateway is weather dependent, but when it’s open to skating, it’s free day and night! To check the status and see current ice conditions, visit the Rideau Canal Skateway website. If the Skateway is closed, don’t despair! There are many other places to ice skate in Ottawa.
During Winterlude, special programming is offered at sites on or near the Skateway, including these two big events:
- Winterlude Triathlon:On Feb. 3, cheer on brave athletes who skate, ski and run at Dows Lake.
- Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival: On Feb. 8, dragon boats outfitted with special blades race down the frozen Rideau Canal Skateway at Dows Lake.
Jacques Cartier Park: giant winter playground
During Winterlude, Jacques Cartier Park in downtown Gatineau – just across the Alexandra Bridge from downtown Ottawa – becomes a giant winter wonderland for all ages. Snowflake Kingdom is packed with fun activities, including:
- Snow slides
- Skiing and snowboarding lessons
- Kiddie Zone for toddlers
- Lacrosse lessons and demos
- Zip line
- Snow sculptures
Programming is offered during the week (though usually closed for maintenance Tuesday and Wednesday) and on weekends.
The Winterlude mascots – the Ice Hogs family – are reputed to live in Snowflake Kingdom where they love to play in the snow and meet families. Give them a hug when you see them! (They also like to visit the other official Winterlude sites.)
The ByWard Market neighbourhood: fancy ice, comfort food and cool art
Within strolling distance of Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal Skateway is the historic ByWard Market district – a popular daytime and nighttime destination with boutiques, restaurants and bars all packed into a four-block square area.
As a new Winterlude site in 2019, this vibrant area will be the hub for a variety of programming, including:
- 32nd Tim Hortons Crystal Garden International Ice Carving Competition: Watch professional ice carvers from around the world as they create dazzling ice sculptures.
- Guided ByWard Market Walking Tours: Join a free walking tour for insight into the area’s rich history.
- Taste of the ByWard Market – Winter Warm-up Edition and Maple Lover’s Tour: Enjoy local treats during one of C’est Bon Cooking’s gourmet food tours.
- ByWard Market 28th Annual Winterlude Stew Cook-Off: At lunchtime on Feb. 8., fill up on delicious hot stews while supporting local charities.
- 39th Accora Village Bed Race for Kiwanis: In the early afternoon of Feb. 16, watch 50 costumed teams race modified beds down York Street for charity.
- Chimes – Interactive Light & Sound Installation: Activate a set of 30 illuminated tubes and eight loudspeakers.
Sparks Street: pedestrian pride
Just one block south of Parliament Hill, Sparks Street is a historic and pedestrian gathering place for events in Ottawa.
This new Winterlude site blends family fun with programming that hightlights cultural diversity, like the first-ever winter edition of Capital Pride which will celebrate the LGBTQ2+ community. Most programming takes place during the last two weekends of Winterlude and includes these highlights:
- Ice-Cade: Try classic carnival games with a winter twist and enjoy warm beverages.
- Ice Cabaret featuring Mado: Join Montréal’s most famous drag queen as well as Capital Tease Burlesque and DJs for performances on the evening of Feb. 8.
- Saturday Night Divas: Enjoy entertainment by drag performers from Toronto and the Ottawa region on the evening of Feb. 9.
- Standing Up, Standing Out: This photo exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada.
- Bank of Canada Museum: Enjoy special programming and activities at this free museum located on Sparks Street.
Downtown Rideau: arts and culture
Located between big attractions like Parliament Hill and the ByWard Market district, the Downtown Rideau area is a prime spot for shopping, arts and entertainment.
When it’s time to get cultured, consider this new Winterlude site which features lots of indoor as well as outdoor programming. Consider these highlights:
- Culture Walk: Explore the area by taking a free, self-guided walking tour.
- Bytown Museum: Ottawa’s local history museum is hosting special events like trivia and ice carving demonstrations.
- National Arts Centre (NAC): Enjoy theatre, music and dance performances for all ages throughout the year and during Winterlude, including the Big Bang Festival for ages 5 to 12 (Feb 17-18).
- Ottawa Art Gallery: Drop in and take part in creative art activities for all ages.
The Glebe: snow, beer and food
The Glebe neighbourhood has a welcoming mix of historic homes, a village-like main street, as well as entertainment venues. Plus, it’s conveniently located just south of downtown Ottawa and along the Rideau Canal Skateway!
Winterlude festivities in this area include:
- Snowmania: Stroll along the Glebe’s section of Bank Street to see snowmen of all kinds.
- Ottawa Farmer’s Winter Market: Discover the products made and harvested by local farmers and artisans at this weekly Sunday market at Lansdowne.
- Winter Brewfest: Taste beers and other craft beverages from Ontario and Quebec at this popular annual event inside the Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne (Feb. 15-16).
- Unikkaaqtuarniq: Stories from the North: Indigenous filmmaking from the Arctic is projected in a theatre made of snow at Lansdowne Park (Feb 1-3).
Additional programming throughout Ottawa
There is tons more fun to be had throughout the city as Winterlude partners host events and activities throughout the festival, such as a Winterlude pow wow at the Canadian Museum of History (Feb. 3), the annual Winter Celebration at Rideau Hall (Feb. 9), and special spy activities at the Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum each weekend.
For more information about all of the events mentioned above, see the full schedule on the official Winterlude website.
Free bus shuttle between official sites
Special services on the Rideau Canal Skateway include: ramps to access the Skateway, accessible heated change facilities and accessible portable toilets.
A limited number of accessible parking spots are available for people with disabilities at these paid parking lots:
- National Arts Centre (NAC)
- Ottawa City Hall
- Dows Lake parking (corner of Preston Street and Prince of Wales)
- Bronson Avenue’s National Capital Commission parking space
Not sure what to bring to Ottawa to make the most of your Winterlude experience? Consult our handy Winterlude Packing Guide.