Six Things to Love about Winter in Ottawa
I have often worked with clients who are moving to Ottawa from a warmer climate, and as I help them look for a new home, they frequently ask about the cold Ottawa winters they’ve heard so much about. While some tell me they look forward to the snow, others look worried, and wonder how they will get through it.
I tell these people that our winters can indeed be cold and snowy, and there are people who get through it by going into hibernation mode, curling up around the fireplace every night with a series of books or restricting themselves to indoor activities around the city, including theatre, museums and galleries, movies, concerts and working out at the gym, where they can go for a jog or ride a stationary bicycle without worrying about slipping on a snow-covered sidewalk.
If you’re part of the I-hate-winter crowd, the great thing about Ottawa is that there is no shortage of activities that can get you out of the house but will still keep you indoors and warm.
But the cold and the snow can also be a big part of the fun of living in our region, as long as you bundle up appropriately for it. I’ve known people who have come from warmer countries or milder parts of Canada who end up loving winter in Ottawa, because they tell me it offers things they couldn’t do in their former cities.
They love outdoor skating or introducing visiting family and friends to the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest rink.
They enjoy the chance to learn new winter activities, like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. They also love Winterlude, our annual celebration of winter, which offers the chance to see some eye-popping snow and ice sculptures every year.
If you open yourself up to enjoying winter instead of thinking of it as something dreadful that you have to endure, you might be surprised how much fun you can have and how quickly the season can go by.
To give you some ideas, here are only a few winter activities that you can enjoy in our area in coming months. Some of the information is from the excellent website run by Ottawa Tourism, ottawatourism.ca. That site lists other events and activities and has an events calendar that is worth checking out for other activities through the year.
Stittsville Parade of Lights (Nov. 29, 6 p.m.)
The Stittsville Village Association’s annual Parade of Lights is a popular attraction that draws thousands to the parade route in this village-like community in west Ottawa, southwest of Kanata. Dress up warmly, and watch as dozens of community floats go along the route, decorated with hundreds of coloured lights. Santa arrives at the end of the parade. Organizers invite spectators to stay for the lighting of Village Square Park, and to have some hot chocolate. The parade will proceed south on Stittsville Main Street, from just south of Hazeldean Road to Carleton Cathcart Street. For information, go to Stittsville parade of lights.
Christmas Lights Across Canada (Dec. 3 to Jan. 7)
There’s not much we can do about the fact that nights are longer during the winter months. When it starts to get dark around 4:30 p.m., and it’s also cold, the nights can seem very long.
But in Ottawa, thanks to a tradition started in 1985, those dark nights get brightened every year by the display of thousands of lights throughout the downtown area that can lift your spirits when your hands and ears are feeling cold. Other cities across the country also take part in the program, lighting up their downtowns during the same period.
Many people make a point of visiting downtown Ottawa at this time of year to enjoy the lights. Some out-of-town visitors plan their Christmas shopping trips to the city around the chance to see the lights.
The opening ceremony this year will be held on Parliament Hill Dec. 3 at 7 p.m., when the lights are officially switched on. The event includes carols and performances. From then on, you can enjoy these beautiful lights from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
There are about 300,000 lights on display, including thousands on Parliament Hill alone. You will see them throughout the downtown area, including Confederation Park and along Confederation Boulevard.
Winterlude (Jan. 30 to Feb. 16, 2015)
Sites throughout downtown Ottawa and Gatineau are part of Winterlude, the region’s popular celebration of all things cold and wintry, running this winter from Jan. 30 to Feb. 16, 2015. There are many activities, most of them free. Most activities are presented around the weekends during the festival, but there are also activities during the week.
At Confederation Park (Elgin Street at Laurier Avenue West), you can see the international ice carving competition, featuring works by ice carvers who come to Ottawa from around the world to turn blocks of ice into beautiful sculptures. You can visit the park during the day, and also at night, when the sculptures are lit up in multiple colours, to spectacular effect.
Another popular Winterlude attraction is Jacques Cartier Park in downtown Gatineau, home to the SnowFlake Kingdom and many snow-related activities for children, including several slides created out of snow. Winterlude organizers describe it as “North America’s largest snow playground.”
When you tire of the cold and want to warm up, Ottawa restaurants also host special events during Winterlude, including cooking demonstrations and special meal-and-wine pairings.
For more details as the event approaches, visit the Winterlude website.
Skate the World’s Largest Rink
If you or your out-of-town visitors want to take part in one of Ottawa’s most popular winter activities, lace up some skates and go for a glide along the Rideau Canal Skateway, which stretches nearly 8 km and offers a wonderful experience on a sunny winter afternoon. It’s maintained and operated by the National Capital Commission.
The world’s largest naturally frozen rink starts from downtown Ottawa next to the National Arts Centre and heads south to Dow’s Lake Pavilion. Unlike some other cities that have skating rinks in their downtown areas and charge steep prices for enjoying the experience, admission to the Skateway is free of charge.
As long as the weather co-operates and it is cold enough for the ice to be in good condition, the Skateway is usually open daily from January to March. There are huts where you can put your skates on, there are snack stations where you can buy a steaming hot chocolate or some warm cinnamon-topped pastries, and if you don’t have skates of your own, you can rent them from stations along the Skateway.
For more information on the Skateway and to check the condition of the ice on the day that you want to skate, go to the National Capital Commission’s website.
Last year, with the unusually cold winter temperatures that lasted for weeks, the National Capital Commission was able to open the Skateway Dec. 31 and did not close it for the season until 71 days later. It was open for all three weekends of Winterlude last year and saw more than 1,200,000 visitors. Skaters will undoubtedly be hoping for cold weather to ensure a similarly long skating season this winter.
If you’re feeling in the mood for some skating and the Skateway is not open because of warm weather, you can also head to Ottawa City Hall, where there is a refrigerated outdoor rink that can remain open even if the temperatures are not cold enough for the Skateway to be open. First opened in 2012, the rink is open from November to March from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. There are benches, picnic tables and a heated change hut at the site. With a 12,500 square-foot oval ice surface, it is one of the largest outdoor rinks in Ottawa.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
If you’re not sure you’re ready to try downhill skiing and would prefer something gentler that also offers a great cardio workout, consider giving cross-country skiing at try.
There are cross-country ski trails throughout Ottawa as well as 150 km of trails in the Greenbelt area around Ottawa, in areas that include Shirleys Bay, west of the city. You can use the trails for free. The National Capital Commission says that all are suitable for beginner and family outings.
For more information on routes and maps of trails, head to the National Capital Commission website at http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/places-to-visit/greenbelt/things-to-do/cross-country-skiing-greenbelt.
Beautiful Gatineau Park, just a short drive across the Ottawa River from downtown Ottawa, also draws many cross-country skiers to its trails, with more than 200 km of groomed trails and heated shelters. You can buy a day ski pass or a season pass at the park’s visitor centre in Chelsea, Quebec. For information on cross-country skiing in the park, go to Cross-country-skiing-gatineau-park.
If you’d like to try snowshoeing, Gatineau Park also has trails that are reserved especially for snowshoeing. Passes are also available at the park’s Visitor Centre.
If you prefer the faster velocities of downhill skiing rather than the gentler gliding of cross-country, there are several hills within easy driving distance of Ottawa. One particularly close ski area is Camp Fortune, in Chelsea, Quebec. It’s just a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. You can rent equipment and take lessons, and there is also snowboarding available, as well as night skiing. There is also a bar and cafeteria to enjoy a drink or snack after your ski session. For information, go to the campfortune website.
You can find other suggestions for Ottawa-area winter activities at http://www.ottawatourism.ca/en/features/winter-activities.
If you’d like to get in touch with me or someone on my team about buying or selling an Ottawa property, you can reach me through my website, at www.nancybenson.com or give me a call at 613-788-2556.