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Warm weather persists for Winterlude's 2nd weekend

Heading into the second weekend of Winterlude, ice sculptures on Sparks Street were wrapped up in tarps to help protect them from potentially damaging warm weather. Organizers said they'll be removed Saturday. (Sophie Kuijper Dickson/CBC - image credit)
Heading into the second weekend of Winterlude, ice sculptures on Sparks Street were wrapped up in tarps to help protect them from potentially damaging warm weather. Organizers said they'll be removed Saturday. (Sophie Kuijper Dickson/CBC - image credit)

Winterlude is now in its second weekend, and the unseasonably warm conditions aren't looking favourable for some of the annual festival's mainstay attractions.

"It's a bit underwhelming," said Melissa Aguilar, who was visiting from Montreal and strolling along Sparks Street with her family Friday morning.

"We were surprised it's not as eventful, but we're happy there's at least a few things here, like ice sculptures."

The 46th edition of Winterlude opened Feb. 2.

As of Friday evening, the Rideau Canal Skateway remained closed, some of the ice sculptures on Sparks Street were under protective tarps, and festival organizers were on standby for closing the Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park if it became unsafe.

This comes after a warm winter last year dampened celebrations too, when high temperatures melted ice sculptures and prevented the skateway from opening for the first time in its five-decade history.

Warm temperatures are keeping the Rideau Canal Skateway closed during the second weekend of the National Capital Region's Winterlude festival.
Warm temperatures are keeping the Rideau Canal Skateway closed during the second weekend of the National Capital Region's Winterlude festival.

Warm temperatures are keeping the Rideau Canal Skateway closed during the second weekend of the National Capital Region's Winterlude festival. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Festival adapting, says organizers

Canadian Heritage spokesperson Melanie Brault, whose department organizes Winterlude, said her team has been preparing for these kinds of unpredictable conditions for several years.

This year, Brault said, they tried to include programming that was not weather-dependent and to be more strategic with rolling out attractions that do depend on wintry conditions.

For one, the building of ice sculptures would be staggered across all three weekends, Brault said, to ensure one weekend of bad weather wouldn't ruin the entire festival.

"From a visitor experience perspective, this means you actually get to see these beautiful ice carvings come to life in person," she said.

Brault said the seven or so ice sculptures built last weekend were placed under tarps during the week to slow their melting. The tarps will be removed on Saturday in anticipation of larger crowds, she said.

While the Snowflake Kingdom is still welcoming visitors after a slightly delayed opening and all nine ice slides are in operation, Brault said festival organizers may need to close the park if the warmer temperatures cause the snow pack to become too slippery to walk on.

"Hopefully next weekend, we will be in Canadian winter weather," Brault said.

A display of this year's Winterlude ice sculptures on Spark's Street in downtown Ottawa. Festival organizers have staggered the building of sculptures across all three weekends of the festival to ensure visitors on any weekend can see them.
A display of this year's Winterlude ice sculptures on Spark's Street in downtown Ottawa. Festival organizers have staggered the building of sculptures across all three weekends of the festival to ensure visitors on any weekend can see them.

Some of the ice sculptures on Sparks Street. Festival organizers have staggered the building of sculptures across all three weekends of the festival to ensure visitors on any weekend can see them. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

According to Tourism Ottawa, the warmer temperatures haven't affected turnout so far.

"Early results are showing that this year's first weekend of Winterlude saw more out-of-town visitors than last year's first Winterlude weekend," said director of public affairs Jérôme Miousse in a statement to CBC News.

Still, some businesses that rely on crowds of skaters are hoping the Rideau Canal Skateway will make a comeback.

"Unfortunately, since we're an on-ice operation only, we have not been able to open since Winterlude started," said Benoit Gatien, director of operations for Capital Skates, which rents skates to people on the canal.

While Gatien has a team of 12 to 15 people, mostly students, on standby, he predicts it will become harder to entice employees back to work in the coming years if warm winter seasons persist.

Christopher Burke, the general manager of the Canal Ritz restaurant, says he's been watching the NCC crews work on the ice and is optimistic the skateway will open this season.
Christopher Burke, the general manager of the Canal Ritz restaurant, says he's been watching the NCC crews work on the ice and is optimistic the skateway will open this season.

Christopher Burke, the general manager of the Canal Ritz restaurant, says he's been watching crews work on the ice and is optimistic the skateway will open this season. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Christopher Burke has had a front row seat to the canal, in all of its conditions, since the 1980s as the general manager at the Canal Ritz restaurant.

While the Winterlude rush is important to the restaurant's business — so much so that one member of the kitchen staff has grown accustomed to fixing customers' skates with a screwdriver —  the restaurant is lucky to have a loyal base of local diners regardless of whether the canal opens or not, Burke said.

He's still hoping the skateway can relaunch, noting he recently served two tourists from Germany who traveled to Ottawa in both 2023 and 2024 in the vain hopes of skating on it.

"Now they're flying to Winnipeg because they desperately want to skate on a large body of water," Burke said. "So we lost two."