There is no denying it: Ottawa is known is one of the coldest capitals in the world (only as far as temperatures are concerned though). But does that mean you stay at home during the winter and mope? Absolutely not! Ottawa has turned a potential liability into a key asset and really shows us how to celebrate winter.
First there is Winterlude, Ottawa's winter festival, which is being held this year from February 3 to 19, 2006. Winterlude is apparently attended by more than 650,000 winter revellers and encompasses a myriad of events: concerts, special events, culinary demonstrations, restaurant festivals and the list goes on. Skating on the Rideau Skateway, at almost 8 km the world's largest icerink., Was our main reason for coming to Ottawa. Indeed we had travelled to Ottawa about 3 years ago and due to warm weather Winterlude was a total washout for us that year (I guess the appropriate term for that event would be "Waterlude").
But our earlier experience did not deter us, so this year Theresa and I decided to come back and pray for better weather so we would indeed be able to check out this phenomenal skating and entertainment venue for ourselves.
Incidentally, the Rideau Canal Skateway has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest naturally frozen ice rink. The skateway is 7.8 kilometers long and takes you from the Rideau Bridge all the way to Dow's Lake.
We got going early just around 10 am on an absolutely perfect winter day, but even at that time, the skateway was packed, and the walkthrough over the frozen ice from Confederation Park to the skateway entrance on the other side of the river was chock full with people in a long lineup.
We laced up our skates and put our boots in our backbacks which would give us the flexibility to get off the ice at any time and continue our explorations on foot. Or if we got too tired, we could even hop on the "Sno-Bus" which connects Dow's Lake with Confederation Park during the entire Winterlude Festival for the low fee of $ 2.50 (more information on the OC Transpo site).
But, apparently we did not need a Sno-Bus, we skated our way down on this wonderful natural ice surface all the way to the lake and did not even need to rest. On this gorgeous day with crystal blue skies and perfect winter weather and amazingly no winds, skating on the Rideau was a phenomenal experience. We could indeed not have picked a better day to explore the Rideau Canal on skates.
At different intervals along the way there were a variety of rest areas, food concessions and special entertainment or information areas. Well represented of course is a famous Ottawa trademark: the Beavertails concession booths which sell freshly made warm pastry, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. The perfect snack and energy source on a cold winter's day.
At the Via Rail Concord Station Rest Area an exhibit shed light on Ottawa's railroad history. Apparently many years ago, trains would arrive in downtown Ottawa right next to the Rideau Canal. At Fifth Avenue, young sports fans were enjoying the Canadian Tire JUMPStart Activity Centre where they were jumping through the air on a trampoline system and putting their hockey skills to the test.
At Pig Island a special area with teepees was set up to get a taste of Aboriginal traditions, culture and cuisine. In addition the area featured a loggers' exhibit, a snowshoe-making workshop and aboriginal songs and drumming.
Once arrived at Dow's Lake I went on to explore the 26th Annual Bed Race, a fundraising event which proved to be an absolutely hilarious experience, for a good cause no less. The Bed Race is organized by the Ottawa Kiwanis Club and the proceeds, close to $ 50,000 will go towards the Children's Read-A-Thon.
But I had more to cover, so I started skating back towards the downtown and by this time the skateway had filled up quite a bit. It seemed like young and old, the whole family was out. Parents were pulling their children on little sleds, or even pushing them in all-terrain baby carriages. Everybody was having a ton of fun.
On the way back one person struck my attention: a young lady on red skates with red gloves and a red scarf was skating down the canal, juggling, apparently just having a ball of a time. I approached her to find out a bit about her. She introduced herself as Sylvie, and shared with me that she is part of a juggling family and that juggling is in her blood. She said that juggling is her life, and although she does not drive the fanciest car, she is happy because she gets to do what she loves.
After all this skating I got really hungry, so I took off my skates and simply headed up to the Rideau Centre, one of Ottawa's biggest shopping centres. It is located right next to the Canal and was positively packed on this day. The Rideau Centre offered a welcome opportunity to warm up and catch a nice lunch in its food court.
Obviously I love outdoor activities as well as urban exploring, and skating on the Rideau Canal through downtown Ottawa combines both activities perfectly. I got a brief taste of this special winter activity, and one thing is for sure: I'll be back !!!