Where to have fun when the temperatures tumble

| January 2, 2020 | 0 Comments
Fairmont’s Le Château Montebello offers a cavalcade of options for a winter getaway — and this huge, enticing fireplace. (Photo: Phil Norton)

Fairmont’s Le Château Montebello offers a cavalcade of options for a winter getaway — and this huge, enticing fireplace. (Photo: Phil Norton)

Ice, snow, tumbling temperatures: No one ever said an Ottawa winter is an easy ride. But that’s no excuse for spending the season cocooned with a hot toddy and good book — not when there’s a ton of fun waiting outside your front door.
So grab your tuque and mitts, and let’s see what we can find out there.

A cross-cultural collaboration: The new season of NAC Indigenous Theatre — a landmark in Canadian theatre — continues Jan. 9-12 with Unikkaaqtuat. Created by a new generation of storytellers and performers from Nunavut, Nunavik and Montreal, the show is inspired by Inuit founding myths. It blends circus arts, theatre, music and video in a story about an ancient realm where life and death, day and night and Inuit and white people had not yet encountered each other. It takes place in the Babs Asper Theatre. If you miss Unikkaaqtuat, there are three more Indigenous Theatre presentations this season, including the riotous hip-hop-based Hot Honey, May 5-9. 1-888-991-2787, nac-cna.ca

Get out and enjoy the white stuff: It’s winter, so why not revel in it? Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ingleside, Ont., about an hour south of Ottawa on the St. Lawrence River, rents snowshoes and cross-country skis to explore its geography and wildlife. The 9,000-hectare site includes a mature upland forest, wetlands and more. The ski trails are groomed, and you can rent the equipment for a modest fee at the Visitor Centre. It’s open weekends, Family Day (Feb. 17) and March Break (March 16-20.) If you don’t make it out this winter, tuck the sanctuary away for an outing at a warmer time, when you have a shot at spotting 200 waterfowl, raptor, passerine and other bird species along the eight kilometres of self-guided nature trails. You can also camp and cycle at the sanctuary. 613-537-2024, st.lawrenceparks.com

Flick time, with a difference
You could buy a ticket for Cannes, or you could simply head down the 401 to Kingston, where the annual Kingston Canadian Film Festival is front and centre March 11-15. Spotlighting the best Canadian feature films of the year, the almost-two-decade-old festival screens movies in multiple downtown venues. It also offers short-film programs and presents free workshops and other enticements. Filmmakers represent established and emerging artists. Over the years, that’s included names such as David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley and Denis Villeneuve. Kingston’s historic architecture is one more reason to make this early-spring trip. kingcanfilmfest.com or 613-777-0161.

All Kingston all the time: The Limestone City — so named for all the buildings constructed of that rugged material — is about more than film. On Feb. 1 and 2, the Kingston Winter Antique Show (AKA the Cabin Fever Show) takes place at the Portsmouth Olympic Harbour. Dealers from Ontario and Quebec unveil country and formal furniture, folk and academic art, fine china, glass, collectibles and more. Mid-century modern, retro or pure nostalgia: The show appeals to every taste and budget. cabinfeverkingston.com

The Museum of Nature turns into party central during its occasional Nature Nocturne nights. The next one is on Jan. 31. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

The Museum of Nature turns into party central during its occasional Nature Nocturne nights. The next one is on Jan. 31. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

A swingin’ hot spot: Who knew? The Canadian Museum of Nature, that grand, castle-like building on McLeod Street in Centretown, turns into one of the city’s most happening spots on several Friday nights each year. That’s when it becomes ground zero for Nature Nocturne from 8 p.m. till midnight, with DJs, three dance floors, a cash bar and after-hours access to some of the galleries. The Queens’ Lantern, the arresting glass tower that now fronts the building and which was dedicated by the Queen in 2010, is one of the dance areas. The event has room for up to 2,000 people and is often sold out or close to it. This year’s first shindig is Jan. 31. nature.ca or 1-800-263-4433.

Winter sports you’ve never heard of: Winter carnivals abound this time of year, but how many offer a “little ladies fry pan toss” or snowshoe softball? Head south to the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in upstate New York and you’ll find not just events such as these, but also inner-tube races, parades, flowerball (a cross between bowling, shuffleboard and curling), fireworks and an ice castle built on the shore of Lake Flower’s Pontiac Bay. The carnival, an annual affair since the late 1940s, runs from Jan. 30 to Feb. 9. Since New York’s Adirondack Park, site of the carnival, is a bit of a hike (about three hours), you may want to tack on some downhill skiing, ice climbing or other wintry escapades (suggestions at visitadirondacks.com). Information on the carnival: saranaclakewintercarnival.com
If the Adirondacks sound just a little too far, check out the winter carnivals closer to home. Among them: La Fête des neiges de Montréal, running multiple weekends starting in January; Manotick’s Shiverfest on Jan. 24 and 25 and Petawawa’s Cabin Fever from Jan. 11 to 19. Here in Ottawa, Winterlude runs for three weekends in a row, starting on Jan. 31 and ending Feb. 17.

A fresh start: If you could start from nothing, how would you imagine the world? A freighted question, but one that artists wishing to participate in Reset, this year’s edition of Montreal’s Art Souterrain Festival, were asked. The festival is held in Montreal’s sprawling Underground City and satellite locations, and is intended to make art accessible to a wider audience by taking it out of traditional exhibition spaces. This year, installations, sculptures, videos, photographs and performance art pieces address humanity’s current crossroads position, one where we either continue in the same old self-destructive climate, social and other paths or find new ways to connect with each other and the world. The festival runs from Feb. 29 to March 22 (438-385-1955.)

Shutterbug city: The smartphone can snap some pretty fine photos, made only better by its editing features. That means winter photography is ultra-convenient and rewarding even for the rankest amateur. The Ottawa area offers some fine photography opportunities, including Gatineau Park with its forests, hushed lakes and winding trails. For shots of the Ottawa River, try the Alexandra and Portage Bridges as well as Victoria Island and Rideau Falls, which can freeze completely in the winter.
The ByWard Market is a study in humanity anytime of the year, while crisp, cold photos are the order of the day at the ice-fishing community on Petrie Island just north of Orléans (the fisher folk are exceptionally friendly). When lit by Christmas lights, Confederation Park is one of the city’s prettiest spots. The Vimy Bridge in Barrhaven is an elegant structure, especially when rimed with frost or sprinkled with snow. Ice storms are predicted for January and February, so check out the Arboretum for post-storm shots. Winter photography with a smartphone is a special art.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in upstate New York offers fireworks as well as a “little ladies fry pan toss“ and snowshoe softball. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in upstate New York offers fireworks as well as a “little ladies fry pan toss“ and snowshoe softball. (Photo: STOO METZ PHOTOGRAPHY)

All-in-one: Fairmont’s Le Château Montebello, about an hour northeast of Ottawa, offers a cavalcade of options for a winter getaway. Outdoors, there’s tubing, skating, curling, sleigh rides, dogsledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing… you get the picture. Indoors, there’s a spa, a sports complex, tennis and squash. With all that activity, it’s a good thing the restaurants serve up tasty, bracing fare, including a Sunday brunch. Built where a 17th-Century seigniorial estate once stood, the resort’s main building is a stunning log structure of red cedar with a massive central fireplace anchoring it. If all this isn’t enough to occupy your time, the wildlife Parc Omega is fewer than five kilometres north of the Château. For information on Fairmont Le Château Montebello, call 1-866-540-4462 or check out their website.

Getting to know ByTown: It’s hard to beat a good museum for whiling away a couple of hours on a snowy afternoon. The stone ByTown Museum just west of the Château Laurier is chock full of local history, starting with Lt.-Col. John By and the construction of the Rideau Canal. A special exhibit running until mid-February draws on photographs, newspaper articles and artifacts to tell the story of Ottawa and the South African (Boer) War, in which 7,000 Canadian soldiers and nurses enlisted. Want a taste of what you’ll see in the museum? Try the virtual tour on the website.

Patrick Langston is a local writer whose love of reading by the fire just may be outstripped by his fondness for heading out the door in the depths of winter.

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