A tale of two Canadian winter festivals

Quebec at night

By Ed Boitano

An uncle in Seattle likes to chide me that Phoenix has only two seasons: Hot and hotter. Sure, it’s worth a laugh. And indeed, our summers do fit into the “hotter” category, but those of us who live here know that there are seasons—they’re just very subtle.

Nevertheless, life in the Phoenix generally means we don’t have to leave the area to escape the snow, ice and cold. Instead, we must find it elsewhere. Last winter I did just that. I explored two unique cultures that embrace the hardships of ice and snow with celebrations that warm the heart and soul.

Winterlude: Ottawa, Ontario

Each February, Ottawa hosts Winterlude, three weekends of excitement and activity that celebrates Canada’s winter climate and culture in the heart of Ottawa, between Parliament Hill and the Fairmont Château Laurier. The festival includes spectacular ice sculptures, ingenious ice slides, the children’s Snowflake Kingdom, ice mazes, food and music. The frozen 4.8-mile-long Rideau Canal is transformed into the world’s longest skating rink. Business people skating to work with backpacks and briefcases in hand is a sight that I will never forget. And I know that children on skates will never forget seeing a clumsy, terrified journalist trying to negotiate the ice.

Signature Winterlude snack: BeaverTails

BeaverTails are named after the shape of one of Canada’s national symbols—the beaver. Made with fried whole wheat pastry, then tossed in a bowl of cinnamon and sugar, it is a popular treat. They can also be made with toppings of garlic, cheese, jam or chocolate sauce.

Most Winterlude activities are free, but registration and admission fees may apply to certain events. Winterlude 2017 runs from Feb. 3 to Feb. 20.

About Ottawa

Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017 and Ottawa, as the capital city, will be the epicenter of the celebrations. A series of seemingly endless blockbuster events are scheduled throughout the year. Visits should begin with a trip to the observation deck of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, which offers sweeping views of this world-class city. Other attractions can include watching the proceedings of the Senate or House of Commons from the public galleries, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian War Museum, which shows Canada’s history of war from the perspective of an average person.

For further information about Ottawa’s Winterlude, visit www.canada.pch.gc.ca/

Carnaval de Québec — Québec City, Québec

Nestled on the banks of Old Québec City, Carnaval de Québec is the biggest winter carnival in the world. Sixty-four years of history is reflected in this two-week festival that includes snow sculptures, an Ice Tower, night parades, concerts, giant football game, ice fishing, skating and other activities based on Québecois folkloric traditions. Located just a short drive out of the city (10 minutes) is the Hôtel de Glace, the only ice hotel in the Americas. Entirely made from snow and ice, this magnificent manmade palace features rooms and suites, exterior spa and sauna, bar, café, an exhibition room, a chapel for weddings and an ice slide. Guided day tours are also available.

Signature Carnival snack: Maple taffy (“tire d’erable”)

Maple taffy is made by pouring hot, thick maple syrup onto a board of fresh snow. When it begins to harden, you grab a popsicle stick and pick up the taffy in a rolling motion, wrapping it around the stack. Maple syrup is a staple of Québecois cuisine, reflecting the natural taste of the countryside, where “sugar shack” in maple groves are used to boil maple.

Most Carnaval activities are free, but admission fees apply to some events. Carnaval de Québec 2017 started Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 12.

About Québec City

Québec City was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and is the only walled city in North America. The best way to explore this historic city is to stroll along its narrow, cobblestone streets lined with stone houses, cathedrals and cafes. The city itself is nothing less than a living museum. Québec City has embraced its history, which is reflected with more than 32 museums, exhibition halls and interpretation centers. Pedestrian streets are populated with local artisans and musicians. In this city, 95% of the residents speak French. A quick journey down the funicular leads you to Lower Québec, the birthplace of the city. A ferry ride on the St Lawrence River is mandatory for stunning photo opportunities.

For information about Carnaval de Québec, visit https://carnaval.qc.ca/home