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While most festival organisers ask the weather gods to favour them with nice, balmy conditions, the same can not be said for the people who plan Winterlude in Ottawa, Canada.

These organisers pray for icy, frigid weather. In fact, the colder the better.

Winterlude Festival in Ottawa, Canada

Praying for cold weather is not surprising, considering that Winterlude takes place in the second coldest capital in the world (first place is taken by Mongolia's Ulan Bator) and is a unique celebration of snow and ice.

A fun-filled, family event - held in the beginning of February - Winterlude celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003.

It was in 1979, when the National Capital Commission (NCC), a crown corporation that promotes Canada's capital, conceived the idea of a winter festival to showcase Ottawa during the colder months. It also became a way to help Ottawans deal with the long, icy winter that the city endures every year.

But what started out as a small town festival has quickly grown into a world renowned event that has won 27 awards from the prestigious International Festival and Events Association.

The Rideau Canal

At the heart of the celebrations is the Rideau Canal Skateway, a historic waterway that becomes the world's longest skating rink (equivalent to 200 Olympic-sized ice venues) once the cold weather sets in and the canal freezes over.

Winterlude: Rideau Canal Skateway -- Copyright National Capital Commission
The Frozen Rideau Canal

The Rideau Canal itself stretches 202 km from Ottawa to the city of Kingston and was constructed by thousands of Irish and French Canadian labourers between 1826 and 1832.

The idea of skating on the canal originated with Douglas Fullerton, the chairman of the NCC in 1970. That winter he sent a crew down to the frozen Rideau Canal with shovels to clear some of the snow for skating. It turned out to be a big hit with the public and that year was the first skating season on the Rideau Canal.

Today, the Skateway attracts one million visitors each year and the almost eight kilometres of skating surface, beginning in downtown Ottawa and ending at Carleton University, is now dotted with concession stands, skate and sleigh rentals, shelters and rest areas.

It's the perfect showcase for many of Winterlude's activities, such as figure skating exhibitions, skate races and relays. In addition, Winterlude is the perfect time to indulge in a Beaver Tail. Not a real one of course, but rather, Ottawa's own world famous pastry which can be found at special concessions on the canal.

The Clarica Ice Café is also located on the canal. Carved from 110 blocks of ice weighing close to 15,000 kilograms, this very cool café includes a five meter long ice bar and a sculpture gallery. Many weary skaters find it the perfect resting spot after a long trek down the canal.

Winterlude: Ice Carving -- Copyright National Capital Commission
Ice Carving

If skating isn't your cup of tea there are many other things to do that don't include donning a pair of skates.The Canada Snow Sculpture Competition features snowy works of art by thirteen teams of professional snow-sculptors from each Canadian province and territory.

Each team is given a maximum of 43 hours to carve and complete their sculpture from an enormous block of snow. You can see these gigantic masterpieces at Major's Hill Park.

Snow Playground

And speaking of big, how about taking the kids to the largest snow playground in North America?

It's called Snowflake Kingdom, in Jacques-Cartier Park, and it's the place to go to get some warm, furry hugs from Winterlude's official mascots; the Ice Hog Family.

At the playground, the young and the young-at-heart can try out the giant snow slides, the dogsled and horse-sleigh rides and take in special shows at the Ice Hog Legend Theatre.

Winterlude: Ice Hog Family -- Copyright National Capital Commission
Ice Hog Family

There are also many sporting events, ice-carving competitions and even a Mardi Gras party among the other things to do in and around Ottawa during Winterlude celebrations.

So sharpen your skates, take out your mitts and bundle up to join the over 650,000 people that will visit the largest winter festival in North America.

Winterlude Official Site:
Winterlude was founded in 1979 by the National Capital Commission (NCC) as a means of celebrating Canada's unique northern climate and culture.

By AP Rodrigues.

Credits:
Images used with the kind permission of the National Capital Commission.

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