Tens of thousands hit winter festival opener

« We love the sculptures, skating on the canal, the Beavertails and the hot chocolate.»





Long before moving to Ottawa, David Halford had heard about Winterlude.

So when he relocated here late last year, he knew it was something he had to check out.

"It seems to be a really big deal down here," said Halford, who took to the Rideau Canal Skateway for the first time on the weekend.

Halford was among the tens of thousands who attended Winterlude’s opening weekend.

"The NCC is quite pleased with the first weekend," National Capital Commission spokeswoman Chantal Comeau said yesterday. "People were keen to take in the activities."

The three-weekend winter festival continues Friday, with entertainment and cold-themed events. More than 650,000 will have attended Winterlude by the time events wrap later this month, pumping nearly $90 million into the city’s economy.

More than 5,000 people attended the kickoff show Friday — a large turnout considering the snowstorm, Comeau said. And yesterday, most of the snowbuses that carried visitors between Winterlude sites were full.

At Confederation Park, many arrived early to check out the Crystal Garden.

"I like them," Barrhaven’s Kristen Lees said of the ice sculptures. "They’re a little melted, but pretty good despite that."

Winterlude is a great way to break up an Ottawa winter, said Michele Ferland, who was participating for the first time despite living in the area for six years. "It’s a way to make sure all the people get out."

"We try to come every year," said Ottawa resident Joan Banks. "We love the sculptures, skating on the canal, the Beavertails and the hot chocolate," she said.

It was her friend Rickey Allard’s second time at Winterlude. "It’s a lot milder this year," said the Toronto-area resident.

If nothing else, people came out at least for the skating. Gliding on Dows Lake is tradition for Melanie Crawford and her friends.

"It’s a must-do," she said.

His appetite whetted by skating, Halford said he plans to give the Winterlude schedule a long look for other activities he might enjoy.

"If there’s something interesting, I’ll come out," he said.