It is already February and so far we have not had a really cold winter in Canada. The temperatures hover around 0 C. (32F) and even snow has not fallen as much as in other years. It is a good year to spend the winter months in Toronto; it feels almost like Global Warming has arrived here. Is there any need to become a snowbird and travel south to warmer areas? Where does one need to go to experience true Canadian Winter? I read somewhere that in previous years there were Ice Hotels where one could sleep for a night or more, like an Eskimo, in an igloo. This year would not be a good year to try that in Toronto, it is just too warm, and a cold winter seems to have been forgotten.
I asked Carol how far north we would have to travel to see some serious snow, to see some cracking cold, to find true winter. So she went on line and found the Ottawa Festival that happens every year to celebrate winter. It is called Winterlude and the focal points are winter activities and the true Canadian outdoors. It is held annually, so one would think there must be snow, ice or cracking cold, right? The highlight, why most people go to Ottawa in winter, is for fun skating on the Rideau Canal. I don’t skate, so even if it is a bit warmer than usual, I thought it would be a great idea to go and visit Canada’s Capital and spend a few days in Ottawa. There is, for sure, enough to see and the promised winter activities are just an added bonus. So we planned a date, even with an alternative date, to visit Ottawa.
We did not think the weekend before last, the end of January, was cold enough. Temperatures in Toronto climbed to 45 F. I almost took my motorcycle out for a run around the block instead of going sleigh riding. But then, last weekend the weather news was better. A cold spell hit Canada’s Capital and we thought, maybe the RideauCanal would be frozen and people would be allowed to skate on the ice.
|24 Sussex Drive, Home of Canada's Prime Minister|
So off we went, it is only about a 5 hour drive to Ottawa and the weather driving north was dry and sunny; too sunny, as it turned out. We had packed heavy clothing, packed skates for Carol, and packed the car like we were going on an expedition. We packed so much clothing we could have survived a blizzard with the stuff we had on the back seat of the Prius. I have never been to Ottawa before, but Carol knew her way around the city, somewhat. She has been to the Winterlude before. So she served as my guide, my weather prophet and was my companion while traipsing through downtown Ottawa.
|Rideau Canal, Closed to Skating|
We sure enjoyed the Beavertails, though. For you folks out there, it is not an animal treat. It is a flat, deep fried kind of pancake that looks like the tail of a beaver. I had mine with Cinnamon Sugar and Carol loved her garlic butter and cheese.
|Pouring Concentrated Maple Syrup onto Snow to Make Maple Taffy|
Maple Taffy? Delicious! A blob of pure maple syrup is dripped into snow; it is so cold it congeals. A wooden stick serves as a handle and the flavor is just awesome. A pure sugar rush!
And all of you know about roasting marshmallows over an open fire, right? The kids here, as small as toddlers and folks as large as me, enjoyed cooking the free marshmallows. The smoke got into my eyes, I never learned to stand on the non-smokey side of the fire. Why is that?
|Bed Race - This is a Medical Team|
|Bed Decked Out Like a Pirate Ship for the Bed Race|
We did enjoy entertainment at Winterlude that was truly Canadian. Where else can you see a bed race? It is a dash with a ‘patient’ on a homemade bed frame, a run against the clock. Fastest group wins! The problem is the bed swivels sideways at high speeds and luckily there was no snow on the road, but just imagine how difficult that would be pushing, pulling through a meter of snow? It is usually held on the frozen Canal so directional control is even more difficult.
Where else can you get free hot chocolate served by pretty girls? Only in Canada! You could drink as much as you would like. They even served me with a smile!
|Everyone Enjoyed Their Antics|
I saw ‘walking’ trees! With a few ‘gnomes’ hidden inside the trunk. Some were dazzlingly funny. I think they practices their silliness in front of a mirror before coming into the public, their facial expressions were hilarious.
|She Was Having As Much Fun As We Were Watching Her|
|Who Is Having More Fun?|
I saw a tall ‘Uncle Sam’ like performer on stilts, with stripped pants and wearing a cylinder hat.
|Performers on the Rink of Dreams|
Dance lessons! Ice Dancing! And my all times favourite……an ice slide. Like a little kid I sat on my rear end and slid down the hill, what a slick way to go. The little kids next to me where in awe that I would do this ‘dangerous’ stuff. It was fun, I loved it.
|Owl Ice Sculpture|
Ice sculptures were rated according to originality and quality and difficulty of execution and received prizes. Some artists came from non-snow countries but knew how to sculpt. Unfortunately, the warm weather in the weeks before our visit melted some of their efforts.
Housing, shops, booths, display walls, rope guides all were made of ice.
Small tykes learned how to downhill ski on very small hills. That would have been perfect for me, but they did not have my size of ski.
|Kids on Push Sleds Riding on the Runners|
And throughout all of that the music played, dancers were on stage, a competition of ‘sculptors’ were competing on their block of ice. Free samples were given out by the Metro Food Store, by Vaseline, the cosmetic manufacturer, wooden burned engravings were given to kids, etc.
The place was humming with activity. But …………No skating on the Canal!
No matter the not so frozen Canal, Winterlude was still going on. There were lots of visitors from all over the world. In our B&B we even met a Dr. from Mexico City who wanted to learn what ‘cold’ really meant. Well she got some kind of idea but I told her she has to come back when it is minus 30. The coldest actual temp we experienced was minus 9 C. The wind that blew off the Ottawa River however was strong and it might have been colder considering the wind chill factor. We were dressed for the occasion; triple layers under warm jackets helped a lot; the free hot drinks, helped, too, of course. We covered the town as best we could.
One day we visited the famous Parliament Buildings. We even took the free, guided, tour. An explanation of the political system in Canada helps when you come and visit. Luckily, I ‘kind of’ knew how the Canadian System works and is organized; totally different from the U.S. system, for example. While the U.S. is a Republic (the law rules), Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy (the Queen is the head of State). Those are fine points but add up to a totally different way of living and add up to having the parliamentary system organized differently. Just to be able to visit Ottawa and take the tour of the Parliament complex is worth a visit. Come and visit Canada.
The Parliament building itself is an amazing feat of craftsmanship. It was rebuilt in 1916 after a ravaging fire destroyed all of the old installation except the library, (someone closed the metal doors when they left and that saved the library). The room of the library has exceptional details and a very surprising sense of beauty. No matter where I went, no matter where I looked, each wooden joint was perfect. Each mason miters true, each metal solder a work of art. The pride, the long range view showed throughout each room of Parliament. The library itself is simply stunning; containing books that would add up, stacked, from earth to
the moon. I did not see any
wires hanging lose, yet the building is up to the latest technology. The decor
might be a bit too old British and somehow too ‘castle’ looking but then, don’t
forget, this was the style of 1916. It is a very impressive building, even
today, 100 years later. No wonder Canadians are very proud of their Parliament
Buildings. They should be! It is a marvelous statement of their unity.
|Inside the Library|
|House of Commons - Speaker of the House Sits At Far End|
We drove around the town, too. It was the best way to see the extended area. I wanted to see the outskirts, wanted to see the expensive homes, wanted to see the green spaces and get a general feeling for Ottawa. While not a huge city it is a substantial place. I understand that Ottawa was chosen as the Capital of Canada in 1857 and in 1867 was retained as the National Capital after Confederation. The reasons for having made this town the Capital are interesting.
Firstly the city has distinct geographical advantages. It sits on the border between East and West Canada (think of the year 1857). Towards the East most people speak French, even today. Going west it is almost exclusively English Speaking. Ottawa sits between Quebec and Ontario. In fact, once you cross the Ottawa River the language changes. We met folks at our Inn who had a difficult time speaking English and I could only tell them that I don’t speak French (in French). It was a bit strange to be in a country with a dual language set up, yet most English speakers really don’t speak French that well, if at all.
But it gets worse! I wondered what the name Ottawa means so I looked it up. The word comes from the Algonquins who named the river “Ottawa”. The meaning and pronunciation and sound were written down by Jesuits Priests long ago: Outaouak, Outauas or Outaouais! At least that is how the Jesuits heard the names when they arrived. So the meaning of the word Ottawa means ‘the great River’? Well that did not satisfy me, since it only named the River. So I dug a little further and came up with the name of the hill that Parliament sits on, at least now I have a spot and not a river. So here it goes: Kichi Sipi! Huh? In the language of the Kichesipirini (an Algonquin nation) who inhabited the area, the spot was named, and still is named ‘Kichi Sipi’, which means the ‘Great River’. So I gave up, Ottawa means a spot on the Great River of the North. (The name Ottawa comes from the Algonquin tribe Odawa meaning, "traders", is another explanation I heard). Good enough for me.
Secondly, Ottawa in 1857 was sufficiently far away from the U.S. border. Canada had some bad taste in their mouths from the War of 1812 and wanted to not be near the U.S. border or the sea. I will leave you with the history study of the useless war of 1812, look it up.
While driving I saw lots and lots of government buildings. Ministries, Consulates and Administration buildings were all in admirably good condition and showed wealth. Yes, Canada, according to what is shown in their capital is a wealthy county. There are no shortcuts taken on anything. Each person we met who worked for the government had some kind of uniform, some kind of marking on them that made them look ‘official’. I could not help but notice that. Even cleaning personal wore outfits that made them stand out and I just knew they were the maintenance crews. The country is run by rules, by organized citizens, by laws that were instituted and are being followed. A stop sign means STOP, even when you can see for miles that there is no traffic coming. Everybody in Canada will stop, and then proceed. A red light for pedestrians is being observed as if they were partakers in the traffic rules. You wait until the light turns green before you cross the street, no matter the traffic or lack thereof. This is Canada; this is how Canada is set up and Canadians pride themselves being that way.
Come and visit Ottawa and see it yourself.
|Chief's Head Dress With Computer Screen in Centre?|
An art exhibition near the Winterlude showed a mix of old and new native art in strange ways. A chief’s regalia head dress with a computer screen at its center? I do not know that it was supposed to mean. But then I don’t always know art, especially modern art. Judge for yourself looking at the pictures!
The visit to Ottawa is not just Winterlude; it is visiting Canada, the heart of Canada. I am not sure if summers or winters are the best times, but no matter the time of year, Ottawa is worthwhile to visit anytime. Of course the city has Restaurants galore, shopping malls, no parking, traffic, some weird people, etc. but this is all part of the experience. N’est-ce pas? It was a good long weekend and I might do it again sometime.
|More Ice Sculptures|
|Barricades Made From Blocks of Ice|
|Elk Head Carving|
|Kids Were Allowed to Try Ice Carving Under Supervision|
|Many of the Delicate Sculptures Had Partially Melted|
|Piano and Stool Carved Out of Ice|
|Photographs Embedded in a Large Block of Ice|
|One of the Photographs|
|Another of the Photographs|