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(2013 - Winter Issue)


For years, it’s been a running joke that Canada’s capital is the coldest in the world, second only to Mongolia’s.

I don’t wish to give Mongolia free publicity, so I won’t mention that capital’s name. As for Ottawa, well, its residents are accustomed to shovelling walks and have uncovered a secret: winter is a time for celebration.

How many cities, in the dead of winter, hold winter carnivals that have been going on for more than 35 years? How many cities can boast about the number and variety of outdoor skating rinks Ottawa has?

In a nutshell, Ottawa is a happening town when, theoretically, everything should be in a deep freeze.

Act Like a Local 

For starters, head to the downtown ByWard Market where you can taste the famous BeaverTail pastries before you head off to skate on the Rideau Canal. Most visitors want to try and cover the entire eight-kilometre run, and end up stopping for hot chocolate or more BeaverTails along the way. If it’s a sunny day on a weekend, the foot and skate traffic will be overwhelming. Everyone (and their dog) will be out for some fresh air. Locals pray for cold weather. Pressed for time? Head to the outdoor Rink of Dreams at Ottawa’s City Hall at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Elgin Street.

If you’re in Ottawa for Winterlude (January 31–February 17), you’ll be very close to some cool activities at Confederation Park (a.k.a. the Crystal Garden), which overlooks the Rideau Canal and is well-known for its international ice-sculpting competition. It’s a popular place after sunset when DJs spin tunes late into the night.

If you’re without kids, you might consider a walk down Elgin Street, Ottawa’s equivalent of the “Main.” And walking is not a bad idea as finding a parking spot is almost impossible.

Classic Winter Activities

If you are with children, keep those snow pants on and head over to the Snowflake Kingdom across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Québec, where another snow sculpture competition takes place. Don’t worry; snow is hauled in every year just in case Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough. Snow mazes and ice slides depend on it.

Or you might want to head off to Québec’s Lac McGregor, just 20 minutes from downtown Ottawa, where Alaskan and Siberian huskies will take you dogsledding. In nearby Gatineau Park, where both downhill and cross-country ski trails are available, you can also try snowshoeing. Even more intriguing, you can do it at night from January 23 to March 6. Serious downhill skiing is available at Camp Fortune, just 15 minutes from downtown Ottawa, where Mont Cascades and Edelweiss offer great beginner and intermediate runs.

Why not top off all of these exhilarating outdoor activities with a stop at a Scandinavian spa? It just so happens the largest such spa in North America is in Chelsea, Québec, at the epicentre of all the activities I’ve just described. Never visited a Nordic spa? Immersing your body in near-freezing water after spending 10 to 15 minutes in a hot sauna may be the most relaxing experience going. And at the Nordik Spa’s new Källa pool you can float in an indoor Epsom salt pool as if you were in the Dead Sea.

The Ontario side also offers classic winter activities. In Vanier, a community near downtown Ottawa, there is a Maple Sugar Festival from March 31 to April 4, however the real thing happens at Fulton’s Pancake House & Sugar Bush in Pakenham, Ontario, some 40 minutes from downtown Ottawa. Although the spring maple syrup season is unpredictable, you can indulge in maple syrup here throughout the winter from February 15 until the Easter weekend. Fourth-generation owner Shirley Fulton-Deugo will introduce you to her pure maple products, gourmet foods, and bath and body products used in spas across Ontario. On site, there are also the horse-drawn sleigh rides and trails along which you can walk, snowshoe or cross-country ski. Nearby Pakenham features its own beginner downhill ski area as well as cross-country trails.

Looking for a really unique place to skate outdoors, far from the madding crowds? On weekends only, head to Rideau Hall for an old-fashioned rink complete with the canned music of yesteryear. You might catch a glimpse of our current Governor-General, a hockey enthusiast, and, if you tour the building, you’ll learn about Lord and Lady Dufferin’s original skating parties and Lord Stanley, whose cup has become hockey’s greatest treasure.

Warm up to Culture and Food

Say you want to go indoors for a change. Ottawa is home to some of the country’s top museums.

Beginning December 6, the Canadian Museum of Civilization (no, it hasn’t changed its name yet) is featuring an exhibit Snow/Neige, which captures Canada’s love affair with snow dating from the Aboriginal experience until today.

Ottawa has made huge strides in its culinary offerings recently. If you’ve been participating in the great outdoors, you deserve a great meal.

Zen Kitchen, Ottawa’s top vegetarian restaurant, will be packed on the coldest night of the week, so be sure to reserve ahead. Molecular cuisine fans love Atelier, where Chicago-trained chef Marc Lepine struts his culinary artistry.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Ottawa Tourism: ottawatourism.ca

Canadian Museum of Civilization: civilization.ca

Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush: fultons.ca

Nordik Adventures: siberkan.com

Nordik Spa-Nature: lenordik.com

Winterlude: winterlude.gc.ca

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