Reasons why the NCC needs to rethink Winterlude.

Each year, during February, Ottawa has a winter festival called Winterlude. For three weekends, people from all over the world come to see ice sculptures, slide down giant slides made of snow, skate on the Rideau Canal, and do other winter activities.

This year was the first full in-person Winterlude since the pandemic. Many, including the National Capital Commission (NCC), tourist industries, and local businesses, had high hopes. Due to an unseasonably warm February, attendance was lower than expected.

One of the major attractions of Winterlude, and winter in Ottawa, is the Rideau Canal Skateway. The World’s longest skateway hasn’t been able to open this year due to warmer winters. Climate change is the reason.

Our winters have become warmer, and storms have become more unpredictable and devastating. Hosting an outdoor festival has become increasingly difficult, regardless of the time of year.

The world has changed; therefore, it’s time for the NCC to rethink Winterlude.

Most people with disabilities and seniors have difficulty getting out of their homes due to a lack of snow removal. In some parts of the city, boarding a Para Transpo vehicle is impossible.

This has been an issue for as long as I can remember, and the city is doing a worse job clearing away snow each year.

The NCC should move the festivities to sidewalks and side streets. They could rename it Winterlude On The Side or Winter On The Side.

The snow ends up there, so why not utilize it?

It seems almost wrong to celebrate “the joys of winter” in a city that can’t handle winter.

I haven’t even discussed our public transit system in this week’s article yet.

Our LRT system breaks down almost daily, and buses get stuck in the snow. Buses and LRT stops continue to be hard to get to, and there’s a severe shortage of sheltered bus stops.

Even if I were an able-bodied public transit user, I’d have a hard time celebrating winter, especially if I worked in-person.

While I understand there are plenty of winter enthusiasts in Ottawa and elsewhere, more consideration should be taken to those negatively affected by winter—for example, those forced to stay home strictly due to poor snow removal.

I’m not saying that the NCC should cancel Winterlude. Just rethink it and better adapt to our changing environment and how our city handles the season.

The NCC also needs to acknowledge people with disabilities better.

Yes, the Rideau Canal Skateway is wheelchair accessible. Some parts can be bumpy, but I’ve been on it several times. As long as I stick close to one area and can quickly get somewhere warm, it’s pretty fun. Other festival sites aren’t wheelchair accessible at all.

For example, Snowflake Kingdom. Besides having giant slides covered in snow, Snowflake Kingdom also has snow sculptures, Maple taffy, entertainment, and more.

However, based on photos and videos, the ground is covered, which makes it not accessible for most, if not all, PWD using mobility devices.

Another popular Winterlude site is Sparks Street Mall, where the main ice sculptures are. Unlike the Snowflake Kingdom, the ground isn’t completely covered in snow, but some parts would be challenging for PWD to navigate.

To be fair, the Canadian Museum of History is a wheelchair-accessible Winterlude site. To get there, though, many rely on public transportation, whether it’s Para Transpo, bus service, or LRT, and if all three aren’t reliable, that’s an issue.

The NCC loves to say all are welcome, but all don’t feel welcome. I understand snow is part of winter, and having the ground covered in snow adds to the vibe. At the same time, though, the more snow there is, the less wheelchair-accessible Winterlude becomes.

So, is everyone truly welcome to Winterlude?

The answer is no.

And it’s time for the NCC to rethink Winterlude.