Fixing Winterlude

Over the weekend, I read this blog post, Winterlude: On a wintery weekday night in Ottawa. I saw a tweet saying it was a critique of Winterlude. Now, I enjoy Winterlude, and I find most (but not all!) complaints about Ottawa events to be pretty irritating.

So, I was ready to dislike the post, but I felt I should read it with an open mind. All in all, it was a good assessment–and as a proponent of creating a better winter city, I’m happy to see others rallying to the cause.

All right, let’s take a look at the post. Even though I think it was good, overall, I have some nits to pick, and I’m doing that first (because I’m that kind of jerk):

“We already get six months of winter here in Ottawa, give or take…”

No, we don’t. This year, I was still riding my regular bike a week in to December. Winters were never six months in my lifetime, and they’re (worryingly) getting shorter. This sort of winter fatalism is used as an excuse by many to do nothing during non-summer months.

“We parked the car on a side street (parking at the World Exchange Plaza was suddenly closed for some reason) and walked over…”

Argh! Why does any Ottawa assessment of an event have to include parking right up front! First of all, we need to stop relying on driving in winter. Second, the complaint seems to be that there was abundant side-street parking within walking distance. Come on, people, please.

“I had money to spend, and I wanted to spend it, but there was nothing to buy!”

This one’s a good and a bad complaint. The overall issue was that everything was closed (bad! very very bad!), but I do cringe a bit at the suggestion that spending money might be a necessary component of a fun event…but, yeah, you should be able to buy a Beavertail.

Which brings us to the valid observations/complaints:

“The sculptures were there, and most were lit, but otherwise there was nothing going on. Except for the Beavertail stand, the rest of the food trucks were shut down. There was no one in the info booth. No fire in the fire pit. The audio speakers around the venue were hissing. (Were they supposed to be playing music?) That big “face” interactive art sculpture, which I really wanted to see, was turned off.”

Yes, this is absolutely on-point. Keep Winterlude open! Years ago, Winterlude switched from a two-week/16 day event, to a three-weekend event. It made a bit of sense–put more stuff on the weekends when more people are available, and give the public more weekends to go–however, we shouldn’t just abandon weekdays/weeknights.

“People went to see the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition and it was minus 30 that night!”

This is spot-on. Some people like to complain that we can’t do anything in winter. You can’t go outside. You can’t ride a bike. You can’t do anything but huddle in doors and wait for spring. But the actual lived experience of Ottawans demonstrates that’s not true. When the canal opens, it’s packed–even on bitterly cold days. People ski and skate and sled and build snowmen. And people went to Crashed Ice. We’re already a winter city…a winter people…we just need city officials to realize it.

“Related to this: have you seen the official Winterlude website? What do you think of it? Is it just me, or is it underwhelming?”

The website is absolute garbage. It’s horrible. It’s a wretched way to try to find out about Winterlude and make any sort of plans. Fix it, people!

All right, that’s it.

The writer, Andrea Tomkins, pretty much nails the situation. We–the city of Ottawa (and associated government agencies)–like to talk a good game about winter, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t ever really commit to it. We don’t put in the work. We fail to realize that makings of a stellar winter city already exist in Ottawa.

And, because we won’t fully embrace our winter identity, we rob ourselves of the wonderful experiences winter and winter-related activities bring.

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