125 years of celebrating the Ottawa-Gatineau winter

While Winterlude has been around since 1979, there have been chilly celebrations in Ottawa since at least the late 19th century.

Winterlude started in 1979, but we've been partying for much longer

'Masquerade at the Rideau Rink, Ottawa Carnival, 1895' from the Sabiston Litho. Co. While the first Winterlude festival was held in 1979, locals have been finding ways to turn winter into a party for more than a century. (J.A. Phillips/Library and Archives Canada)

Ottawa-Gatineau's Winterlude festival started in 1979.

But there have been winter carnivals going back to at least 1895.

People skate during the 1922 Canadian National Winter Carnival — the brainchild of then-mayor Frank Plant. The festivities opened with a party of some 10,000 people. (Library and Archives Canada)
A closer look at the 22-metre tall ice palace in the previous photo, located near what's now Ottawa City Hall. (Library and Archives Canada)
That same year, a regal ice column stood roughly where the National War Memorial now appears. (William James Topley/Library and Archives Canada)

These days, roughly 600,000 people check out a Winterlude event every year.

A 1982 Winterlude poster. (Richard Saint-Germain/Library and Archives Canada)

Like bed racing, for instance.

Ottawa police take part in a bed race for charity in this photo from February 2011. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)
A team cheers as they cross the finish line at during the 2011 race — the 31st edition of the competition. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Or horse racing.

Archive footage from the opening of Winterlude in February 1979. 3:08
During the first Winterlude horses actually raced on the Rideau Canal. 1:21
Horse racing on the Rideau Canal was part of the very first Winterlude in 1979. (Courtesy Canadian Heritage )
This ice sculpture from the 2018 Winterlude festival commemorated the harness races, which were held for seven years. (Susan Burgess)

There was water-skiing in 1990, though it wasn't an official event.

In 1990, the Rideau Canal was melting during Winterlude — leading to water-skiing instead of skating. 1:39

There's also been hockey on the canal.

This photo from 2005 shows some of the competitors in the Caribou Cup, an annual hockey game between First Nations and Inuit people. (David Trattles/Library and Archives Canada)
Minor hockey players play a game of shinny during Shinny Hockey Day on Feb. 8, 2020. Hockey is normally not allowed on the canal. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

And giant slides.

The 'Avalanche Slide' during 1988's Winterlude at Lansdowne Park. (City of Ottawa Archives | CA024733)

Finally, here are a few scenes from recent years.

One of the dragon boats from 2019's Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press )
That year also marked the city's first Pride march held during the winter. (Leah Hansen/CBC)
Winterlude kicked off on the weekend of Feb. 1 with a showcase of Indigenous cultures at the Canadian Museum of History. 0:45
One of the Winterlude 2020 ice sculptures on Sparks Street in Ottawa. (CBC)
Snow sculptors work at Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park in late January 2020. (Ian Black/CBC)


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