It’s Not All Mary Poppins


I love this time of year! Go downtown, and the sidewalks, particularly in the area close to the canal are unusually crowded. People wander by with skates strung over ther shoulders, family groups, and sports teams in their matching jackets wander by. Lots of tourists, identifiable by the cameras, huddle over their maps and brochures in inconvenient spots. But we natives are indulgent: they’re discovering a lovely city that we have the privilege of living in!

Why the hubbub on the streets? Because it’s Winterlude. What do you do if you live in one of the coldest capitals in the world, buried under heaps of snow for months on end? You clear the snow off the canal, you make snow sculptures, you have an ice-carving competition, you create huge ice slides for the kids (check out the slide show and the video clip on that page) – in short, you make lemonade from all those lemons – you have a festival in the snow!

Ottawa makes a big deal of the Rideau Canal (pronounced Ree-doe, accent lightly on the first syllable): “The World’s Largest Skating Rink”, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. (If you click that link, you’ll be taken on a “virtual tour” of the canal: you’ll see a sketch map of the canal with little skater icons along it. Click on each of the skater icons, and you’ll see a different bit of the canal. This is a ten-minute walk from my house, folks. I am so lucky!)

Every year, I make a point of going down to Confederation Park to see the ice sculptures. This weekend, the weather is perfect for Winterlude: -7 and gloriously sunny during the days; – 15 or so at night. Perfect!

Last weekend, the weekend of the judging of the sculptures, wasn’t so good. Several degrees above freezing, the poor artists were in a race not only against the clock (the competition has a time limit), but against the forces of nature.

I think the forces of nature won…This sad specimen is the First Prize Winner in the Single Block Competition, a mere 18 hours after it was carved… You have to feel for the artists, don’t you? (The single block entries are all carved from a block of ice that would fit neatly on top of the average coffee table.)

Just to show you what’s possible, this is an entry from a previous year’s Single Block Competition:Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Here are a couple from this year. The human figure is not finished yet: you can see the shapes of the blocks from which it’s being carved. The boat is finished. See how dull it is, the lines of the blocks obvious, and the ice milky white? That’s because it was too warm.
The teams worked like banshees on these pieces, trying to complete them in the time allowed by the competition, and before they melted away. Lyrical, ethereal sculpting was precluded by the mild temperatures. Anything that survived had a leaden, earth-bound quality to it. Too Bad!

Again, just to give you an idea of what’s possible when the weather co-operates, are entries from previous competitions: astonishing what they do, isn’t it?

And my absolute favourite:


February 12, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 12 Comments