The opening ceremonies of the 36th annual Winterlude festival begin tonight at 7 p.m. but the fun started early on Friday in Ottawa and Gatineau.

Winterlude Snow Kingdom Jacques-Cartier Park

A girl slides down an icy path at the Snow Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park on the first day of the 36th annual Winterlude festival. (CBC)

Ice carvers were hard at work prepping sculptures in Confederation Park while children and adults alike were getting a first go at the giant snow slides in Jacques-Cartier Park.

This is the first time in 36 years that the Department of Canadian Heritage is running Winterlude, but organizers said festival-goers will see little change from how the National Capital Commission operated it.

Denise Leblanc is one of about 90 Canadian Heritage employees that transferred from the National Capital Commission.

"We've got lots of expertise —​ 36 years of expertise behind us in putting on the celebration," she said. "It really is seamless. I don't think people will notice any major difference."  

In addition to the usual snow slides, ice sculptures and skating, there will also be some army-inspired elements. Veterans Affairs Canada will unveil an ice sculpture and the Canadian Armed Forces has created a winter obstacle course.

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