We couldn’t of asked for a better morning! It was slightly overcast with sunny breaks and unseasonably mild for February. We woke up early, said good bye to my parent’s and made the short trip by van to Ottawa from Montreal (about 1hr15min). We arrived at our friend’s place who live just outside of Ottawa, had a quick bite and set out together. The Winterlude festival was being held at two different locations, the ice skating, art exhibit and ice sculptures were on the Ottawa side while the kid’s activities were at Snowflake Kingdom which was on the Gatineau side. On weekends there’s a shuttle bus that brings you back and forth from the two sites. It comes every ten minutes and it’s free! Unfortunately, we were there on a Friday so parking was a nightmare. We resorted to using an underground parking garage that was right next to the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa’s festival entrance. It cost 12$ for the day but was a mere block away from the activities. Had this been a weekend this would have been our only fee (due to the convenience of the shuttle bus) but instead we would later have to drive over to the Gatineau side and pay for parking again. This was the only set back to our planning. We grabbed our skates and a sled for Owen and crossed through a park filled with ice sculptures and art displays. We descended the stairs to the Rideau Canal, where we were pleased to find benches and a place to store our boots right on the ice. There were actually several buildings, a bathroom, a first aid station, a couple of snack shacks and a place to rent skates. Apparently, there are three different rental places along the canal and prices vary from 12$ to 18$ for 2 hrs. You can also rent sleighs to push the little ones around in as well, links to the skate rentals below…
Mackenzie King Bridge (Capital Skates: 613-238-0134)
Fifth Avenue (Capital Skates: 613-231-5861) Pricing same as above
Dows Lake (Dows Lake Pavilion: 613-232-1001, extension 5)
The well maintained ice on the Rideau Canal spans 7.8km and offers some great views of the city and the parliament buildings. We were pleased by the overall atmosphere and accessibility. Despite the large number of people, there was plenty of space and consideration by fellow skaters. Since I had thrown my back out earlier that morning, I lent my skates to our friend Mike while his wife accompanied me on the walkways. It was fun to watch Evan and Mike skate together since they were both at the same experience level. This was only the 4th time on skates for Mike in his entire life! They had fun together and did very well considering. After an hour and a half of fresh air and exercise we treated ourselves to some ‘beaver tails’, an Eastern specialty. I can just hear some of our readers react –
“Beaver tail! Ew!” There’s no need to get grossed out, it’s just the name given to a pastry desert with a multitude of topping choices. It’s kind of like a flat donut that you can add smooth chocolate spread (Nutella) or yummy cinnamon sugar topping that tantalizes the taste buds. These are but the most popular, many other choices are available. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were only 5$ a piece. Everywhere I’ve been, ‘Beaver tails’ sell for 7$ and up.
We took off our skates and walked back up to the park we had passed on the way in. Admiring the winter art and other exhibits, the kids also got to watch sculptors chipping away as they worked their designs on to large blocks of ice. The smell of a BBQ cookhouse filled the air tempting passerbys to try some meaty delights. A stand close by offered maple toffee on the snow , which gave you quite the head rush after devouring beaver tails just before! We didn’t have to live with that pent up energy for long though, we were off to the Snowflake Kingdom!
Once we left Ottawa, we then entered a gambit of one way streets that made the short distance to Gatineau a maze. We reached the site regardless, but then the game of ‘where do we park?’ began. We couldn’t find any designated parking (if there was any) and parking on the street seemed next to impossible. We made the decision to stop wasting time and reluctantly sought out the underground parking at the museum of civilization. It was considered to be on the Winterlude grounds. From this point on however, the annoyance of incurring another 12$ parking fee melted away as the rewards of synchronicity set in.
Right in front of the elevator doors we found 2 parking spaces, side by side. This stroke of luck proved to be incredibly beneficial. It was a mere two floors up and out the doors to the grounds. We didn’t have to haul around a day bag since we were so close, we were able to remove our entire snow gear in the heated garage which was such a relief. Walking indoors, fully dressed or dragging around a pile of jackets, had made prior indoor-outdoor activities more of a chore. Especially now that Owen abandoned the stroller, we no longer have that storage unit on wheels! After learning that the museum was free from 5pm. to 11pm., we decided to hit the outdoor activities first. As we walked through the archway that welcomed us to the Snowflake Kingdom, the sight of the park with a steel spanned bridge and a city backdrop caught my eye. My kids were more taken by the ice slides and ran up the snowy walk way to the top. Volunteers were everywhere, smiling and greeting our kids, giving us a sense of security and care. As I watched my boys climb up, the chiseling of a sculptor in action turned my attention. Watching him carve his design into the hardened snow, made me admire all the work that had been put in to create the countless sculptures and murals that were on the grounds. Hats off to the artists!
Meanwhile, my boys came sliding down the slick ice slides wearing smiles from ear to ear. Even my youngest who came down more like a spinning log was eager for more. The group slides were meant for the kids who wanted to grab on to one another and hold on while the grooved single slides offered a chance to race at your own speed.
The next activity my sons enjoyed was the military style obstacle course complete with army volunteers. The Canadian armed forces came out to join the fun and lend a hand. The members of the armed forces prepped the kids with safety helmets and motivated and cheered them on as they tackled a series of obstacles. Once completed they won stickers and pens. Had we been there at the opening, they were giving away ‘G.I. Joe’ figures.
We then tried the Scandinavian sleds which reminded me of human dog sleds only that we push rather then pull or as my son Tristan called them ‘snow scooters. We all had a go with these! They were incredibly well made with such great weight distribution that my 3 year old was able to push my 8 year old around with ease. These well crafted sleds and other products can be found at www.GoSlide.ca.
The tube slides were next. We had a choice of single or double tubes and an additional choice of ‘spin’ or ‘no spin’. Trust me, when asked, be brave and answer “spin!”. It makes it all the more scarier.
After the boys ran around for a couple of hours, we took a break in the warm up tent that had tables and a snack bar. There was lot’s of space and it was warm enough to sit with your jacket off. Just like back on the Ottawa side you could also find other snack counters, a first aid trailer and portable toilets. For additional needs there’s a corner store next to the Best Western hotel, where I was able to buy some batteries for my camera.
After warming up, we spent a little while longer on the grounds where we watched the filling of a hot air balloon. We were hoping for a ride, but they only went 20ft. off the ground. Still fun for kids though if you can endure the long wait in line.
We still had a few hours until the fireworks and we needed a break from walking in the snow. We returned to our van, got undressed from our winter clothes and joined our friends upstairs to explore the museum. We decided to have a quick bite while the dining tables were free on the 1st level. A little short on food in our knapsack, I bought a couple of fresh sandwich at the ‘Second Cup’ coffee shop located inside the museum of civilization. They were a little pricey, but the tasty freshness made up for it. The tuna sandwich was exceptional and offered a healthy alternative to hot dogs and fries.
In the museum ALL the exhibits were free and open to the public, so our friends, Mike and Peggy went to check out some of the different possibilities while we ventured into the Children’s Museum. For details on our time in the Children’s exhibit please see our Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization page. The exhibit was packed and full of little ones racing around. We stayed there for about an hour before retreating to the theater which feature some Canadian short films. This was a great, comfy way to take a load off in between.
Once we were tired of braving the crowds inside, we went back to our van and put back our winter garments. We met up with our friends and returned to the grounds where we found a descent spot to watch the anticipated fireworks. They started at 9pm sharp and were well worth the wait. The show was truly spectacular as they used a combination of traditional fireworks, spot lights and other visually stunning light projections. The music was well synchronized and the range exceptional. Some people even claimed that they were better than the Canada Day fireworks the summer before. When the show was finally over, a live band kicked in immediately enticing the crowd to come down to the outdoor stage and dance. This signalled the beginning of the Winterlude dance party that was to continue on late into the night. I was tempted to join in as I found myself moving to the beat, but we were all pretty tired from the days activities and decided to call it a day. It seemed most people had the same idea and crowds started to bottle neck at the stairs. Once we were through, it was a short trip to the van and then off to our friends place for a hot tea and a good sleep.
*Note to the reader – When leaving the underground parking you can pay inside before you leave at a quick no hassle ticket machine. It accepts cash or credit. I strongly advise using this little convenience to save time when leaving or you may get stuck at the gate with a temperamental card reader.