Celebrating the Canadian Winter
The defining physical attribute of Canada is its northern climate, so why not embrace it? That’s exactly what Canada’s capital city does each February during Winterlude, Ottawa’s paean to snow and ice, begun in 1979. A million and a half visitors show up every year for the celebration, which includes figure-skating performances, snowshoe races, a winter triathlon (skiing, skating, and running), snow golf, fireworks, a hot stew cookoff, and dogsled races, among many other events. In Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park (north of Ottawa, across the river), Snowflake Kingdom is the world’s largest snow playground, while Ottawa’s Confederation Park is the site for the Crystal Garden International Ice-Carving Competition, with pros the first week and amateurs the next. The Canada Snow Sculpture Competition at Major’s Hill Park displays giant works prepared by professional snow sculptors from each province and territory.
It’s no surprise that the country with the world’s best hockey players also boasts the world’s longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal, built in the 19th century as a military route linking Montreal and points west. During the winter, 5 miles of its length are groomed for skating and serve as Winterlude’s main drag, the site of most of the races. During the rest of the winter it’s busiest on business days, with managerial types skating to work with their attaché cases, schoolchildren zipping along carrying lunch boxes, Olympic wannabes getting in shape, and bureaucrats gliding by on their way to the nearby Parliament building. On weekends the pace is more leisurely, with skaters making frequent stops for hot chocolate and beavertails (deep-fried dough balls covered with cinnamon sugar) or maple syrup on shaved ice.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, the imposing Château Laurier remains the finest hotel in the nation’s capital, if not all of eastern Canada. Built in 1912, at the site where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River, the Laurier offers a historical castle-like setting, handsome furnishings, old-world service, and one of the most European hotel experiences this side of the Atlantic.