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Ottawa: Where -30°C is Normal

Psst – I updated my Life List page. Check it out and tell me anything else I should add to it. Not that I’m anywhere near close to accomplishing them, but you know, motivation is always good! 


It was around the end of May 2005, when most of us finally knew where we were going for our post-secondary studies. We sat at our usual lunch table, at the very last row on the right hand side of the cafeteria, imagining what the next year is going to be like. Rue was the only one out of our group of friends who was going out of town for university. In an attempt to preserve our friendship, we all made a promise to visit her in Ottawa. Years passed, everyone has come and gone to visit Rue, except me. Then, the one time I decided to go, she was on the other side of the world in Kenya doing an internship with UNHabitat (you go, girl!). Finally, in early January, ViaRail had their awesome Escape fare sale and (also  because I was going through a travel withdrawal), I managed to plan a quick weekend trip to Ottawa.

The Obama cookies

The Obama cookies

I’ve been warned that Ottawa’s winter can be extremely-cold and harsh, I just never expect it to materialize when I was there. I figured, Toronto was sitting at -5°C when I left, so Ottawa shouldn’t be that bad. Yea right! I kid you not, the average temperature for that weekend was probably -25°C. It was COLD, people!

The Parliament Hill on a VERY cold winter afternoon

The Parliament Hill on a VERY cold winter afternoon

This didn’t seem to bother the locals though; the sun was shining and Winterlude was in full-swing! I had never seen so many happy people out and about in such a dreary weather.


Now in its 36th year, the Winterlude has been running annually since 1979 and, quoting verbatim from the official website, “It was created to celebrate Canada’s unique northern climate and culture”. Put plainly, Winterlude provides a joyful distraction to an otherwise dull (not to mention incredibly-freezing) winter in Canada’s capital city.

Lanterns at Confederation Park during Winterlude

Lanterns at Confederation Park during Winterlude

Aside from visiting Rue, I had another pretty strong reason to go to Ottawa – to cross off an item from my Life List, specifically to skate on Rideau Canal Skateway, deemed to be the largest skating rink in the world.

Rideau Canal

Skaters on Rideau Canal

And that’s exactly what we did! Rue and I went down to the canal on Monday morning, rented our skates (plus a sleigh for Rue; “for stability”, she said, yet I ended up pushing it as she sat in it), and we cruised down the canal. The frigid temperature turns out to be a blessing in disguise as the river needed the cold snap to freeze thoroughly in order to be declared safe to skate on.

Rue with her sleigh

Rue with her sleigh


I can’t believe it took me almost 8-years to finally visit, but hey – I did it! Plus, Rue is still in school to finish her degree, so technically speaking, no promise has been broken. Thank you, Rue and Vanessa, for your amazing hospitality and all the delicious food you fed me! Until next time!

Has anyone else been to the Winterlude? Have you skated on the Canal before? If not, would you do it? Skating on the canal, I mean. On another note, have you been on the Via train? It’s awesome! I don’t think I’ve been SO EXCITED to be on a train before!    

When you go: 

– Make sure you dress warmly. A hat and a pair of gloves are essential when you visit Ottawa in the winter.
– Skate rental is $16 for 2 hours (+a $50 security deposit, which will be returned to you when you return your skates). The sleigh is $20, also for 2 hours. Credit cards are accepted.
– There are lots of vendors scattered along the canal, so you can have your Beavertails (or 3!) while you skate.


6 responses »

  1. I wanted to do this last month but they closed the canal! 😦
    I also have never been on a VIA train but I want to do the cross-Canada VIA ride!

    • Oh? Really? Because it wasn’t safe to skate on it? Aw. Next year, Lis! And yes, the cross-Canada VIA ride is apparently one of the best way to see the country! A group of oldies from my Indonesian church is going in the fall to see the colorful leaves – I kinda want to go, but I’m already planning to do the Camino then. Ah well.

  2. -30?! Eeeeeeerrggh, sorry but I think I’ll wait for spring/summer to visit. I’ve been so spoiled living here in SF weatherwise 🙂

    • SF’s weather is unbeatable! I must admit, though, I’m going to miss the 4 seasons if I’m away from it. Spring/Summer is definitely nicer to visit, but if you really want to be wow-ed, come up here during the Fall. The colorful leaves are breath-taking and make for an amazing view! 🙂

  3. This is sad to say but even though I live in Toronto I have never skated on the canal! Next year maybe?

    • Don’t worry – it took me only 8 years to finally get to Ottawa for Winterlude 🙂 bahahahaha.. Yes, you should definitely go next year! I’m sure you will enjoy it (and probably won’t feel too cold as you’ve experienced much lower temperature!)


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