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What’s a gal to do when it’s too cold to want to do much of anything? Head to Canada’s capital, of course!

I haven’t really been a “winter person” since I—like our frigid West Michigan temperatures—was in the single digits. I enjoy winter’s beauty, but piles of icy plow, impassable streets, and other nuisances combine to make the season less than desirable. Still, a recent trip to Ottawa, Ontario, and the Outaouais region helped me regain my winter spirits. ‘Though every bit as chilly there as it was at home, the hospitality was warm and gracious.

Winterlude, the capital’s winter celebration, is filled with activities and festivities: ice sculptures at Confederation Park; ice slides, tubing, and outdoor fun at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau; skating on the Rideau Canal, the world’s largest ice rink. We sipped hot chocolate by a bonfire at Fairmont Le Château Montebello, in Québec, after enjoying gastronomic delights in Aux Chantignoles. We toured Parc Omega (Montebello), marveling over the animals—arctic wolves and foxes, musk oxen, caribou, alpine ibex, boar, bison, and fallow, whitetail, and red deer, and more.

We glimpsed history at Bytown Museum, Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature, and Diefenbunker: Canada’s Cold War Museum. We strapped on snowshoes, pulled our scarves tighter, and adjusted our toques to walk in the Gatineau Park conservation area. We warmed up during a brief respite at Nordik-Spa Nature, North America’s largest spa. (Several of us floated weightlessly in Källa, one of just two saltwater pools of its kind in the world. I may need to visit Switzerland to see how the other compares …)

Ottawa’s blossoming craft beer culture was a perk for this fan. Through Brew Donkey we toured Mill St. Brewing and nanobrewery Beyond the Pale. The following day we visited Les Brasseurs du Temps (BDT), which produces its own beer, has an impressive dining menu (with a specialty selection for La Poutine Week), and features a brewery museum. (Beer wasn’t quite as local at Canadian Tire Centre, where the Ottawa Senators defeated the Buffalo Sabres.) For our last slice of pure Canada, we visited Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush—a 160-year-old maple syrup operation with five generations of history and ownership. “Playground Ambassador” Clyde, a Labrador retriever, greeted us and joined us on our tour; he didn’t join us for breakfast, much to his chagrin.

Now, to make my way back to Ottawa/Outaouais during walking-around weather. I hear the Canadian Tulip Festival is lovely, as are the changing colors in autumn. And there’s plenty to do year-round, much within half an hour’s walk of downtown Ottawa, where hotel rooms, helpful souls, dining, and shopping are plentiful. If your groups aren’t yet visiting our neighbors to the north, it’s time to consider a trip!


Written by: Amy L Charles, Groups Today editorial director

 

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