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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Winter? Are we there yet as Wiarton Willie slumbers and Winterlude has contingency plans

   One-Tank Trip for Jan. 14/12

    (c) By Jim Fox

   Oh, the weather outside might be frightful – that is if you are a diehard frigid-winter sports enthusiast.
   Milder temperatures and less snow on the ground are making it difficult for organizers of winter festivals.
   Wiarton Willie, the weather prognosticating groundhog, will have some explaining to do about what happened to the winter and whether what we’ve had is all we’ll get.
There’s lots of pomp and ceremony when Wiarton Willie emerges to give his prediction on when winter will end. This photo from 2005 shows Willie, Jim Mitchell, his handler (in the white tuxedo), and then-Mayor Carl Noble, Town of South Bruce Peninsula.
   In the meantime, the National Capital Commission (NCC) has contingency plans in place if things don’t cool down in time for the 34th year of the big spectacle, Winterlude in Ottawa-Gatineau.

   Winter, are we there yet?
   Wiarton Willie’s 56th annual festival from Feb. 1 to 5 in Bluewater Park will include his much-awaited “Prediction Ceremony” on Feb. 2 at precisely 8:07 a.m.
   That’s when the wily rodent will be roused from his mid-winter slumber to tell the awaiting masses whether we will have to endure any winter weather.
The pressure is on wily Wiarton Willie, the albino groundhog, to learn his prediction about the fate of this unusual winter.
   Activities begin at 7 a.m. with shows, native dancers and speeches from “local dignitaries” leading up to Willie looking for his shadow – or not finding it.
   Legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow, he retreats back to his burrow and winter weather continues for another six weeks. If it’s cloudy with no shadow in sight, there will be an early spring weather-wise.
   Throughout the day, there will be a pancake breakfast, Zero Gravity Circus performers, a lumberjack show and the Caverners (Beatles tribute) acoustic show.
   About 300 snowmobilers will take part in their annual “pilgrimage” and music and shows run all day in the Big Tent.
   Fireworks over Colpoys Bay start at 7:30 p.m. followed by entertainment by rockers Skarni and the Caverners into the night.
   Other activities include a Wee Willie Idol contest on Feb. 3 at noon and musical entertainment leading up to Major Hoople’s at 7:30 p.m., Suzie McNeil at 10 p.m. and a Monte Carlo night from 7 p.m.
   There’s Willie’s parade at 10 a.m. on Feb. 4, a craft show, “Cheap Chili Chowdown” and musical entertainment including headliner David Usher ($25 a ticket).
   On Feb. 5, there are “kid’s day” activities, live comedy and a gospel and rhythm and blues show. www.wiartonwilliefestival.com; (519) 534-5492

   No skating on thin ice
   A frozen-solid Rideau Canal is usually the centrepiece of Winterlude in the nation’s capital but the ice still isn’t safe to venture upon.
Skaters share a kiss on the Rideau Canal Skateway during Winterlude.
   Organizers are used to rolling with weather’s punches for the annual festival from Feb. 3 to 20.
   Contingency plans are in place should the weather not cooperate in time to cancel some events and move others indoors.
   The canal is known as the “world’s longest skating rink,” stretching 7.8 kilometres through downtown Ottawa to Dows Lake.
   Snow-making machines take over if there is a lack of the white stuff and ice blocks used for carving competitions are stored in giant freezers if it’s too warm outside.
   Events such as the triathlon and bed races can be moved to the streets from the canal.
   The Rideau Canal Skateway normally opens by mid-January when the ice thickness measures at least 30 centimetres.
This is what Ottawa usually looks like in early February during Winterlude along the Rideau Canal, billed as the "world's largest skating rink."
   “Over the three weekends of Winterlude, the NCC will mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and the 50th anniversary of the Canadian Coast Guard,” said Marie Lemay, CEO.
   It will also “give a nod” to JUNO Week and the 41st Annual JUNO Awards in the capital from March 26 to April 1.
   The official opening on Feb. 3 is at the Canadian Museum of Civilization with “Fire and Lights from 1812 to 2012: Forging the Canadian Spirit.”
   This includes historical characters and drummers, storytelling around firepits, IMAX presentations, musical fireworks display and outdoor dance party.
   Inside, celebrity chef Lynn Crawford will create a gourmet dinner for Taste of Winterlude ticket holders.
   Activities take place on the skateway, Snowflake Kingdom in Jacques-Cartier Park, and at the Crystal Garden in Confederation Park where the International Ice-Carving Competition is held.
   A sculptor works on his icy creation at Winterlude’s International Ice-Carving Competition.
   Snowflake Kingdom across the Ottawa River in Gatineau is said to be the “biggest snow playground on the continent.”
   Making the rounds will be the festival mascots, the Ice Hog family, including visits to the kingdom with its gigantic snow slides, Fort Wellington snow maze, winter obstacle course and children’s stage activities.
The Ice Hog Family, official mascots of Winterlude, mug for the camera on the Rideau Canal Skateway.
   For festival details and ice conditions: www.winterlude.gc.ca; 1-800-465-1867.


Jim Fox can be reached at onetanktrips@hotmail.com

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