what to do in Ottawa in winter

What To Do This Winter In Ottawa’s Centretown

Moving to Ottawa’s Centretown this summer was an easy transition: cycling paths bursting with floral colour, arts festivals galore, outdoor yoga on Parliament Hill. But I worried about developing cabin fever over the long winter months. My fears were unwarranted. Heated cocktails, “glowing” attractions, and haunted walks are just part of the winter fun in Centretown.

Historic Walks in Ottawa

Sens Rink of Dreams, Ottawa, Ontario
Magical skating at the Sens Rink of Dreams (image: Ottawa Tourism)

People don’t hibernate in Centretown because (almost) everyone has a dog to walk, including me. We’ve made new friends at Minto Park and Confederation Park, now sparkling magically with Christmas lights. These parks are rich with monuments like the one honouring abused and murdered women (Minto Park) and the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument (Confederation Park).

Many days I meander along frosted streets, admiring old mansions. My favourite is an early 1900s Spanish Colonial Revival home on Delaware Street (now the Armenian embassy, with the “Armenia Immortal” sculpture in front). It is across the street from the canal, which is even prettier in winter. The Corktown Footbridge, its railings adorned with Love Locks, offers spectacular views of the illuminated Fairmont Chateau Laurier and downtown. There is an entry point here for skaters too.

Close by is City Hall, a hub of winter activity. The Sens Rink of Dreams is a good place to skate up an appetite for Beavertails at the rink-side hut. I love walking through the courtyard at City Hall: a blend of historic and modern architecture. The mayor’s office is in an 1875 stone building (it looks like a massive church with its bell tower and steeples). It was originally a teacher’s college. Jim Dean from The Haunted Walk told me that Eliza Bolton, an early instructor, haunts this place. In fact, there are many haunted places in Centretown. Lisgar Collegiate, built in 1873, is another. One of its ghosts is a former head girl, killed by a sheet of falling ice from Lisgar’s rooftop.

Glowing Culture

Not surprisingly, the 1903 Scottish baronial “castle” housing the Canadian Museum of Nature is haunted too. “The custodians keep getting their vacuum cleaners unplugged,” Dean says. There were no signs of ghosts when my husband and I went to the museum’s “Nature Nocturne”: on the last Friday of every month, the museum is transformed into one big party, drawing 2,000 people.

Party on at the Canadian Museum of Nature's Nature Nocturne
Party on at the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Nature Nocturne (image: Canadian Museum of Nature)

Each Nature Nocturne event has a theme. Ours was “Get Your Glow On,” partiers wore “glow” clothing danced in the atrium, did “glow” yoga and learned insect “glow” trivia. I have my eye on the upcoming “Tropical Escape”: reggae, butterfly art and insect snacks (excellent protein!).

Two more cultural venues I love are the National Arts Centre (NAC) and the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG). The recently renovated NAC has floor-to-ceiling windows and is spectacular after dark, overlooking the beautifully lit War Memorial. There are free events at the NAC this winter including pre-performance talks.

OAG recently re-opened in a light-filled modernist building. Admission is free and it’s open late every day. My favourite gallery houses A.Y. Jackson’s (and other Group of Seven) works along with memorabilia such as Jackson’s snowshoes. The café downstairs, Jackson, is a stunning place for coffee. Its innovative lunch and dinner menu are more reasons to go.

Jackson Café, Ottawa Art Gallery
Jackson: great coffee, great style (image: Adrien Williams)

Ottawa Centretown Comfort Food

Speaking of food, the strip on Somerset Street between Bank and O’Connor reminds me of a scene from a Charles Dickens novel, with the orbs on its old-fashioned lamp posts illuminating the snowy street. Many of its historic homes are now upscale places to eat and drink.

Fairouz, “a modern journey through the middle east,” was the perfect date night. My husband and I sat at a quiet candle-lit table enjoying many plates designed for sharing.

It’s hard to pick a favourite but the trout stuffed with shaved fennel and red zaatar is a strong contender. Each dish was a work of art, some adorned with edible flowers, gold flakes and puffed barberries.

Jabberwocky, Ottawa, Ontario
Treat yourself to a heated cocktail at Jabberwocky (image: Mailyne Briggs)

Jabberwocky, a few doors down, has fun décor (like the silent movies projected on the exposed brick wall), excellent cocktails, and vegan snacks. We were surprised that the “poutine” (cassava fries; green banana and coconut milk ‘cheese’; jerk gravy sauce) was better than the real thing. Co-owner Tristan Bragaglia-Murdock has even concocted a heated cocktail for winter. He describes it as “unicorn milk, Spanish brandy, Italian herbal and chocolate liqueurs come together with vegan horchata to make a well-rounded and complex drink.”

While Somerset Street is certainly a find, there are also many excellent food and drink options on the Centretown portions of Elgin and Bank streets. In my wanderings, I found a taste of summer at Moo Shu ice cream. Even on a freezing weekday night, people were lined up for their freshly made bubble cones. No wonder! Their flavours are definitely off-the-beaten path. Doesn’t Wampus (burnt honey and juniper with raspberry jam) sound like a great antidote for the cold?

There is so much to do in Centretown this winter. When the weather warms up, I’ll happily venture farther afield. For now, I am quite content sticking closer to home.

Top image: James Peltzer

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