a peek inside the fishbowl

09 Feb, 2018

Winterlude: On a wintery weekday night in Ottawa

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa

David Reevely’s column about embracing the weather and creating a winter strategy for Ottawa has been percolating in my brain ever since I read it back in December. He’s on to something. I think if we, as a city, had a winter strategy we’d see a huge boost in tourism and in the number of local outings that residents undertake as well. What does a winter strategy look like? Well, you’ll have to read David’s column first. I don’t think this requires a huge investment, after all, we’ve already got the base layer. We just need to build on it. We already get six months of winter here in Ottawa, give or take, and a big skating surface, so why not create a municipal plan AND a marketing plan to go with it and make this city truly winter-friendly? Ottawa can be known around the world as the winter capital. Besides, the droves of people who came out to see La Machine proves that locals are eager to participate and consume cultural activities. (I wonder what percentage were Ottawa residents? Any guesses?) PLUS, we are proud of robotic creatures that roam our streets, the giant spider in front of our National Gallery, eating fried pastry while teetering on two thin blades of metal. These things have become part of our identity as a city. And shouldn’t we have more of that if we can?

I thought about this a lot the other night as we tromped around Confederation Park. It was Tuesday. After dinner we drove downtown to see the ice sculptures and maybe get a Beavertail. We parked the car on a side street (parking at the World Exchange Plaza was suddenly closed for some reason) and walked over. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I sure wasn’t expecting most of the Winterlude zone there to be closed at 7:30 p.m.

Did I mention this year is the 40th anniversary of this favourite Ottawa event?

The sculptures were there, and most were lit, but otherwise there was nothing going on. Except for the Beavertail stand, the rest of the food trucks were shut down. There was no one in the info booth. No fire in the fire pit. The audio speakers around the venue were hissing. (Were they supposed to be playing music?) That big “face” interactive art sculpture, which I really wanted to see, was turned off. To be fair, I don’t expect fireworks and a blazing concert every night – I know there are budgets to be considered – but I felt like I was walking around a mall just after closing time. I had money to spend, and I wanted to spend it, but there was nothing to buy! I get that it was only Tuesday. Yes, the fun stuff happens on the weekend, but why? This does a disservice to anyone who can’t make it out on a weekend. I’m willing to bet if there was activity on the site until 9 p.m. every night the people would come out, and not just visitors to Ottawa, but the residents. People went to see the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition and it was minus 30 that night! At a minimum, why couldn’t we have that blazing fire pit, all the lights turned on, music in the speakers, and pizza from a food truck on weeknights?

We were not alone on Tuesday night. There were other snowpant-clad families who were squinting at ice sculptures in the dark, trying to read placards explaining what they are. It was definitely quieter than a sunny wintry Saturday afternoon at the park, but there were plenty of people in the area that night. Also worth noting, almost everyone we passed was munching on a Beavertail. So yes! People eat things at night!

Related to this: have you seen the official Winterlude website? What do you think of it? Is it just me, or is it underwhelming? Perhaps the uninspired web design is hampered by government web standards. It should be a gorgeous marketing piece that screams how awesome Ottawa is far and wide, shouldn’t it? It reads: “Come and celebrate the 40th edition of Winterlude, which runs from February 2 to 19. Canada’s favourite winter activities await you at this annual event.” Well, we were there. Where were you?

2 Responses to "Winterlude: On a wintery weekday night in Ottawa"

1 | Splake

February 9th, 2018 at 5:25 pm


Totally agree. And ditto on the lousy website. I actually kept searching for while to find the *real* website. Come on Ottawa. It’s time to step up. We can do this.

2 | andrea tomkins

February 10th, 2018 at 2:28 pm


It’s crazy to think that IS the *real* website! How is this selling Winterlude to millions of potential visitors from all over the world? How is it serving Ottawa residents who want more info? (Answer: it’s not.) I’m still shaking my head about it.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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