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(2014 - Fall Issue)


Come November the Ottawa winds are cold and brisk.

They lash the flag fluttering atop the Peace Tower, now at half-staff as Remembrance Day dawns. They reverberate in the bass drums of the band marching down Wellington Street.

They lay down a sound track that is duet to a piper’s lament, a bugle’s weeping, a cannon’s throaty roar. They seep into the bones of the thousands waiting to remember, stamping their feet for warmth behind the barriers on Elgin Street, they carry errant snowflakes onto the berets of shivering veterans.

They buffet the walls of the War Museum, moaning as if in sympathy with the strains of a choir wafting ethereally through the cavernous expanse of LeBreton Gallery inside.

On November 11 the winds of war blow unabated.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of The Response, the National War Memorial created by Vernon March in Confederation Square located in the heart of downtown Ottawa, Canadian Heritage has unveiled the 2014 Plaza Bridge Photo Exhibit, which showcases 18 large-scale images until mid-October.

Rituals and Celebrations

But there is another message found here, even on Remembrance Day. Grass grows on the War Museum’s roof, a symbol of regeneration and hope, portend of Ottawa rituals and celebrations that will continue throughout the winter.

Come those darkest nights before the solstice Ottawa is transformed by more than 300,000 lights in the annual “Christmas Lights Across Canada” celebration.

The winds of war are long forgotten. For now a sense of “Peace on Earth” prevails.

“It might be cold and snowy,” says Ottawa Tourism’s Jantine Van Kregten, “but those lights create a wonderful festive feeling.”

Come January—when lesser folks shiver before fireplaces—true (and honorary) Ottawans will skim the ice, matching strides with friends as they skate along the Rideau Canal, stopping for aromatic cinnamon BeaverTails (a thoroughly addictive local pastry), washed down with steaming cups of hot chocolate, then tightening their skate laces and making for Dows Lake.

Join the throngs of locals who cross the river to Gatineau Park. Be filled by both a sense of peace and accomplishment as you snowshoe through green glades where garlands of snow festoon pine trees, the only sounds you hear are the crunch of snowshoes on fresh snow or the call of a bird as hardy as you. Or let your sense of adventure overcome your common sense and spend the night in a yurt.

“Canadians are great at embracing winter, but Ottawans are really good at it,” says Van Kregten.

The yurt experience might be too close and personal but you can still embrace winter—or at least improve the relationship—at a three-weekend celebration that begins at the end of January. Here at Winterlude you can watch carvers turn blocks of ice into artistic masterpieces at Confederation Park, bring the kids to Jacques-Cartier Park to plummet down a snow slide at North America’s biggest winter playground, catch a live concert outside or cheer on your favourites at a triathlon. (This trio of trials features skating, cross-country skiing and running—not even locals are hardy enough to include a swim in this event.)

But you can still enjoy this festival even if you are made of lesser stuff (that is, just visiting). Don’t miss the Stew Cook-off at ByWard Market where you can sample the offerings of more than 20 local restaurants in a large—and warm—tent, voting for your favourite culinary antidote to winter. 

(Note to self: despite the fact there are four BeaverTail locations on the Rideau Canal Skateway itself, there’s also one at ByWard Market where BeaverTails began. Savour the cinnamon and thumb your nose at the cold as you browse the vendors’ stalls inside.)

Indoor Attractions

For that’s part of the good news about an Ottawa winter: you don’t have to spend every minute outside. There’s not a single snowflake, for example, inside the National Arts Centre, where you can take in a symphony concert, a live dance performance or watch a play in either French or English.

And there are always the museums.

While snow is piled outside the Museum of Nature, an elegant Neo-Gothic structure inspired by Windsor Castle, leave winter behind as you stroll through a virtual rainforest and share the glades with life-size dinosaurs. Experience winter sans toque and mittens while you check out a life-sized polar bear at the entrance to the Mammal Gallery (inside temperature a comfortable 22 C). 

Visit the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization) and soak up so much sun in the glow of the towering glass wall in the Great Hall that you’ll forget it’s February. But ignore Canadian weather at your peril—a stark lesson you’ll learn at the anniversary exhibit on display until April that memorializes the loss of the Empress of Ireland, a ship that went down after a fog-bound collision in the St. Lawrence River.

Check out the permanent exhibits at the War Museum. A new one, “Home Front, 1917” is scheduled to open in February.

Truth be told, it’s the wealth of museums that has brought me to Ottawa on a surprisingly mild February morning.

I like my snow on a holiday greeting card and I prefer my ice in a tall glass but on this sunny morning with a hint of spring in the air, toque on my head, mittens warming my hands, marching down Wellington Street en route from one museum to the next, I’m struck by a realization as forceful as the winds blowing up from LeBreton Flats.

Ottawa is always worth a visit. No matter the mood, no matter the season.

Travel Planner

For a complete list of Ottawa celebrations, activities and cultural events, check out ottawatourism.ca.

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