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


  1. okay, come on! those are AMAZING!!!! i wish i could have been there. thank you for posting them. it’s very inspiring!

    Comment by kyra | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  2. Those sculptures are amazing. This reminds me of the St. Paul (MN) Winter Carnival, where they also do a lot of sculptures, the ice slide, etc. Some years they build an ice palace that you can walk through. It’s pretty cool.

    Comment by Sharkey | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  3. Christopher was ENTRANCED by the entire thing; the skating, the ice slides, the sculptures.

    “Can we go, Mom?”

    We’ll definitely have to plan a trip…but I bet the weather makes concrete plans sort of sketchy, right?

    Comment by Candace | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  4. The carriage is SPECTACULAR! I can only imagine it was even better in person!

    Comment by Misfit Hausfrau | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  5. You’d think in a place with a winter as long as ours, we’d get into this, too. With the exception of the First Night ice sculptures, though, no dice. Just grey skies and yucky weather for OUR Winterlude. Thanks so much for sharing these!

    Comment by stefanierj | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  6. I used to live in Chicago, and they did a similar ice sculpting competition on my college campus…but it was nothing like this! Those are spectacular!

    Comment by Kristen | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  7. The carriage is amazing! We have nothing like that here in Phoenix. The lemonade we’d make out of our 110 F summers would taste like sweat. Bleh!

    Comment by Andie D. | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  8. Wow! I see I’ll have to make plans to travel to see something like this one day. Incredible.

    Comment by Cheryl | February 12, 2006 | Reply

  9. Mary, thank you for the glimps at what you folks do when it is cold. This week will be the 25th anniversary of my move from Detroit to Phoenix. I always kid that we don’t have to shovel 120 degrees (thats 49 deg. C.). But I do miss the outdoor fun in winter (I don’t miss driving in the slop).
    Happy Winterlude.

    Comment by jw | February 13, 2006 | Reply

  10. Wow, is that Cinderella carriage as tall as one human height?

    Comment by Queen Bee | February 13, 2006 | Reply

  11. Kyra: Aren’t they? Of all the activities offered at Winterlude, this is the one I try never to miss: it’s magical!

    Sharkey: We had Cinderalla’s carriage, but no castle! Poor girl. All dressed up and no place to go.

    Candace: The weather is always a factor of course, but there’s always something to take in, no matter what the weather – and not to worry, there will be cold snap sooner or later!

    Christopher would love the slides. My kids did/do, but having tried them a time or two, I stay off. Kids whizz down them no problem, light as they are, and padded by their snow pants, but those extra-hard ice surfaces are tough on more substantive adult behinds…

    Hausfrau: Even better. The skill of the carving teams is astonishing. They use axes and saws, rasps, and even hair-dryers! And they create magic, they truly do.

    Stefanierj: You should lobby your city to do something like this. Heck, you should start it yourself! Now that your lil guy is actually sleeping, you must have energy for a new project. (And tons of time, too, I’m sure.)


    Kristen: These sculpting teams gather from around the world. There are a goodly number of Canadian teams, of course, but there have also been American, Japanese, Finnish, French… These guys (I’ve yet to see a woman on a team, but who can really tell with all the cold-weather gear they wear?) are PROFESSIONALS. Amazing.

    Andied: If we can have Winterlude, you can have…a Sweatfest! Surely there’s something that can be done!

    Cheryl: Time it on a weekend when the stepkids aren’t here, and we have a tonne of extra beds…

    Jw: How do you MOVE in 49 degrees? How do you BREATHE? If I have to experience an extreme of temperature – if I HAVE TO, though I see no reason why I should, darnit – but if I have to, I’d rather it be cold than hot. With cold temperatures, you can pile on the layers and stay comfortable. With hot weather, you can take off the layers, but once you get to naked, there’s nowhere you can go… And at 49 degrees, you’d still be HOT.

    QueenB: Yes. A little taller than me (I’m 168 cm, 5 foot 5 or 6), but shorter than a tall man. So – close to life size!

    Comment by Mary P. | February 13, 2006 | Reply

  12. You are lucky to live there. I was born in Ottawa and have always made an effort to visit regularly. Looking at these pics I realize it has been 5 years since I was last there. Coming due…

    Maybe next time I’ll go for Winterlude.. nice sales job!

    Comment by mo-wo | February 13, 2006 | Reply

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