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Skaters throng the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa during Winterlude. Photo: Sarah Harris
Skaters throng the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa during Winterlude. Photo: Sarah Harris

A postcard from Winterlude

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In Canada's capital, winter is something to celebrate. Every year, visitors and locals alike take to Ottawa's famous frozen canals. The Rideau skateway: really an urban, outdoor ice rink.

Sarah Harris, her mom Kate, and her partner Joe traveled north for a day of skating at the city's annual Winterlude. She sends this audio postcard.

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Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

SH. As we drive over the border into Canada my family bursts into spontaneous song:

Joe: Goodbye America.

SH: We’re still in America.

Kate: I don’t know.


All the singing makes for a quick drive. Pretty soon, Ottawa sprawls out in front of us.

Kate: Oh look!

GPS: Keep right onto highway 417 east, then keep left.

[image4:left]Winterlude is the city’s annual winter festival, centered on the frozen Rideau Canal, which runs five miles through the center of town. For 3 weeks the ice fills up with vendors selling snacks and hot chocolate. There are concerts and ice carving competitions and cook-offs and exhibits.  And the preferred method of transportation: ice skates. 

Mom, Joe and I make our way to the canal. It’s early afternoon, and the ice is packed with people – young, old, on skates, on foot.

Joe, who doesn’t know how to skate, opts out: "I sort of want to try it but it’s not the right place to learn. Even walking I just got mowed down a few times," he says."

Kate Harris (my mom) on the canal. Photo: Sarah Harris
Kate Harris (my mom) on the canal. Photo: Sarah Harris
Mom and I snag spots on a bench and lace up our skates.

Kate: I’m taking my skates out out of my backpack and putting them on. But first I have to put my snow pants on because if I don’t put my snowpants on I wont’ have any cushion if I fall. If I fall or when I fall.

SH: Do you plan on falling?

Kate: I do not plan on falling, but knowing my past track record it’s inevitable that I will fall.

SH: Ok, let ‘s go.

We weave through people waiting in lines for hot chocolate and a Winterlude delicacy: beaver tails.

Lauren Lee and her friend Jenna Boucher are chowing down.

SH: For the unitiated, what is a beaver tail?

LL: Probably the most unhealthiest thing.

JB: It’s like a puff pastry – well not a puff pastry – but it’s like a dough, that you fry, with cinnamon and sugar on it, and there’s spices in the dough.

Nearby, Adam Slight is on skates, pushing what looks like a giant sleigh. He owns Ottawa Rickshaws: "In the summer we’re pushing rickshaws all in the byward market, this year they decided they wanted somebody pushing sleds and I guess we were the most qualified people to do it."

Mom and I skate on. 

Once we get past the crowd, and onto the open canal, it’s exhilarating.

You’re flying along – except it’s not on a country pond or an indoor ice rink.  You skate under bridges, passing apartment buildings and stoplights. You can see the Canadian Parliament building in the distance. People commute to work on skates. It’s like skating on a city street.

This may a generalization, but most Canadians are pretty good skaters.  Little boys on hockey skates whizz by and leave me in the dust.

SH: Alright, so I’m skating along, kinda getting in a groove here, we’ve gotten through the throng of people —  oh no maybe I’m not in a groove

Judy Cheesman, expert skate lacer, and Jennifer Alexander, showing a little leg. Photo: Sarah Harris
Judy Cheesman, expert skate lacer, and Jennifer Alexander, showing a little leg. Photo: Sarah Harris
Miraculously, we do not fall. But my skates are getting loose, so I pull over to a bench to lace them up. 

Judy Cheesman and Jennifer Alexander are taking a break. Judy takes a look at my loose skates – and she tells me I’m doing it all wrong.

And then, before I know it, Judy’s taken hold of my foot, placed the blade in between her legs, and is lacing up my skate. 

Judy: You have to start at the bottom here – see too loose, you’re just gonna wiggle,  look at that, too loose. You start at the toe, work your way to the top. 

Jenn: You have to take all the laces down, and then you sit there and grab ‘em.

It’s clear that Judy and Jenn have done this hundreds of times.

SH: Is this the job of mothers across Canada?

Jenn: Yes, because all your kids, like all boys, have to play hockey.

Ok, there you go.

Sh: Judy starts to work on Jenn’s skate. I offer to take their picture. And they start to giggle.

SH: Judy turn your head to me  and I’ll get a picture of you both. I have to get a skate in there.

Jenn: Get the sexy leg...   

It’s getting dark. After an hour, we’ve zoomed past whole families and uniformed policemen on skates, past hot chocolate tents and more Beavertail stands. We’re ready to trade our skates for boots and go in search of another iconic food: poutine – French fries covered in cheese curds and brown gravy.

Mom, Joe and I munch on French fries as the sun sinks in the February sky. All this ice, all these food — it may be a cold, Canadian winter, but I’m not ready for it to end quite yet. 

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