Winterlude becomes waterlude on final day

The final day of Winterlude looked more like waterlude as the temperature rose to a high of 6 C and rain began to fall Monday afternoon.

Melting ice sculptures and a slushy canal greet festivalgoers on Family Day

People took in a sunny start to Family Day by heading out on the Rideau Canal. The canal is temporarily closing at 10 p.m. on Monday because of warm weather and rain. (Ian Black/CBC)

The final day of Winterlude looked more like waterlude as the temperature rose to 6 C and rain began to fall Monday afternoon.

The snow and ice sculptures looked a little less defined, and some had already lost parts, as people packed Confederation Park to take one last look.

According to Environment Canada, the average high for Feb. 19 is –3.6 C.

The agency also issued a rainfall warning, with up to 50 mm expected to fall across the National Capital Region by Wednesday morning.

"We're never going to be able to control the weather and that's true even if we did move it up," said Nathalie Huneault, spokesperson with Canadian Heritage, who said there aren't any plans to move the winter festival earlier in the year.

"You never know when you can get a warm front or a cold front or whatever. So, I think the fact of the matter is that we always have plans in place to ensure that we have activities to offer even if it is a contingency plan."

Nathalie Huneault with Canadian Heritage says this year's attendance numbers exceeded the average 600,000. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The warmth may also have been a draw for families, with both Confederation Park and the canal busy. Long lines to see the ice sculptures — and grab a beavertail — continued into the afternoon.

"It's clear the sites were jam packed for all three weekends. This weekend was very, very busy and we're confident we far exceeded our average guests," Huneault said, adding that the winter festival's average attendance is around 600,000.

Festival attendees were prepared to just roll with the weather. 

"I'm taking what we can get right now with the sun and enjoying the last day here," said Janet Oommen who was attending her first Winterlude after moving to Ottawa from Syracuse, N.Y.​

Canal closing "temporarily"

Conditions were less than ideal on the canal on Family Day, 2019. Slush covered much of the ice surface around the Fifth Avenue rest stop. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

The warm weather wasn't great for anyone trying to get in a holiday skate on the Rideau Canal.

Despite being swept and partly flooded by the NCC overnight Sunday, conditions on the entire skateway were slushy.

"I'm usually a good skater but I can't skate on this. You keep falling through a little bit, but there's nothing you can do. You can just come out and enjoy yourself," said Trevor Bresee, who was out for his first time this season with his daughter Brittney.

The warm weather and impending rain means the skateway closed temporarily at 10 p.m. Monday, but whether it will reopen at all this season is still up in the air.

"We're not there yet, potentially it may or it may not." said Bruce Devine, senior manager with the Rideau Canal Skateway.

"If we look at the long-term forecast toward late next week, the cold is coming back, at least during the evening. So, if we can [get through] the week, who knows? Possibly we can remain open."

Bruce Devine with the Rideau Canal Skateway says the National Capital Commission will likely decide by the end of the week whether tonight's temporary closure will become permanent. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

He said the integrity of the ice is still good, but it depends on the ice thickness — at least 30 cm is required — and the ice needs to remain compact and free of bubbles.

The NCC will likely make a decision by the end of the week.

Devine still considers this season a success. The canal has been open 45 days, including 35 skating days.

That's significantly better than two years ago when the canal closed after being open for 18 days of skating.