Frozen Ottawa Transforms Into 'Winterlude' Wonderland

In Canada's capital city of Ottawa, winter is something to celebrate. Every year, the city's frozen canals are transformed into an urban, outdoor ice rink at an annual winter festival.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Ottawa, Canada, winter's something to celebrate. Each year, the city turns out for a three-week festival, complete with ice sculpting, music, fireworks, and skating on the city's frozen canals, essentially the world's largest ice rink. North Country Public Radio's Sarah Harris spent an afternoon on the ice and sent this audio postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE SKATING)

SARAH HARRIS, BYLINE: I'm standing on Ottawa's frozen Rideau Canal, which runs five miles through the heart of the city. It's packed with people - some waiting in line for hot chocolate, others weaving in and out of the crowd. It's hard to imagine that in the summer this is a body of water. Right now, it's a busy thoroughfare. And the preferred method of transportation? Ice skates.

KATE HARRIS: I'm putting my - taking my skates out of my backpack and putting them on.

HARRIS: That's my mom, Kate Harris. We've just snagged spots on a bench and are lacing up our skates.

HARRIS: But first I have to put my snow pants on because if I don't have my snow pants on, I won't have any cushion if I fall. And if I fall - or when I fall - is the question.

HARRIS: Do you plan on falling?

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

(SOUNDBITE OF CLACKING)

HARRIS: All right. Let's go. We make our way our through the crowd. It's a pretty sure bet that if people aren't skating, they're eating a Winterlude staple - beaver tails. Lauren Lee and her friend Jenna Boucher are chowing down. So, for the uninitiated, what is a beaver tail?

LAUREN LEE: Probably the most unhealthiest thing. It's like...

JENNA BOUCHER: It's like a puff pastry - well, not really a puff pastry - but it's like a dough that you fry, with like cinnamon and sugar on it, and there's spices in the dough.

HARRIS: Mom and I skate on. Once we get onto the open canal, it's exhilarating. You're flying along, under bridges and past apartment buildings. In Ottawa, people commute to work on skates. It's like skating on a city street. Miraculously, we don't 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 looks at my loose skates, and then, before I know it, she's taken hold of my foot, placed the blade in between her legs, and is lacing up my skate.

JUDY CHEESMAN: You have to start at the bottom here. See? Too loose. You're just going to wiggle. Look at that. Too loose. You start at the toe, work your way to the top.

JENNIFER ALEXANDER: You have to take all the laces down, and then you basically sit there and grab them.

HARRIS: Is this like the job of mothers across Canada?

(LAUGHTER)

ALEXANDER: It is, 'cause all your kids, like all boys, have to play hockey.

CHEESMAN: OK. There we go.

HARRIS: Thank you. Oh, man. You're wonderful. We skate well into the afternoon. Then it starts to get dark, and 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 gravy. We munch on fries as the sun sinks in the February sky. All this ice and all this food - it may be a cold Canadian winter, but I'm not ready for it to end quite yet. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Harris.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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