Ottawa, the Capital of our Nation strong and free, typically conjures images of skating on the world-famous canal, devouring the quintessentially Canadian ‘Beavertail’, or strolling past copper-topped Parliament buildings turned green from the elements. While these are all well worth the trip (especially the Beavertails), this is not my Ottawa.
My childhood was spent on the outer fringes of Ottawa proper; exploring the woods in my backyard, biking down country roads, and making homemade lanterns out of fireflies and Mason jars. It was magical and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Although Toronto may have my heart for now, my home will always be where my family is. Haseel and I had long been looking forward to our annual holiday visit back to my parent’s house, one that always promises a chance to rest and recharge – a slower pace, fresh country air and plenty of overeating followed by food comas in front of the wood stove. Surprisingly we were able to fit in quite a bit of excitement peppered in amongst a strict regiment of sleep, eat, watch the Harry Potter marathon on Space, hot tub, repeat. In no particular order, behold the makings of a very Ottawa Christmas:
1. Drive From Hell
We set off just as the ice storm that left hundreds of thousands Southern Ontarians without power in the days leading up to Christmas had begun. As Mother Nature continued to coat everything with a thick layer of icy slush, I clutched the steering wheel with white knuckles past a graveyard of cars in the ditch all the while cursing the fact that my snow tires were (ironically) waiting for me on the other side in my parent’s garage. Eight and a half hours later, we pulled into the driveway, road-weary but in one piece.
2. Grooming trails
Winter visits home for me almost always include multiple trips to Fitzroy Provincial Park for some cross-country skiing. These trails are, in my opinion, one of the best-kept secrets of west Ottawa, boasting roughly 15 km of immaculately groomed classic and skate trails thanks to the West Carleton Nordic Ski Club.
Maintain the trails also happens to be my Dad’s favourite pastime.
An incredible amount of work goes into keeping the trails in tip-top shape despite the elements and the occasional ignorant snowmobiler. Usually I sleep in leave it up to the experts, but this time Haseel and I thought it would be fun to jump on the machines and help out.
Fun it certainly was, easy it was not. While southern Ontario was getting pummeled by freezing rain, good ‘ol Ottawa was busy being blanketed by several feet of snow. This meant that the trails required multiple passes on the machines towing a large roller and rake-like contraption in order to pack down the snow. We then followed this up with a second pass with a groomer to set the final track. Four hours and several episodes of getting-stuck-in-the-snow later, we were ready for a nap by the fireplace.
3. Cross Country Skiing
The next day we ventured out to enjoy the fruits of our labour, virgin trails with just the right amount of ice crusted over top for easy glide. Alright, you caught me — I’m a bonafide ski nerd and proud of it. I had skies strapped on my feet as soon as I was old enough to shuffle, and have loved it long before I possessed the self-confidence to admit it. Cross country skiing is what I miss most about Ottawa winters when I am away.
4. VIP treatment at the Sens game
There are few other Canadian pastimes that evoke National pride the way hockey can, and Ottawans support their team with the best of them. While we were home my long-time friend and partner in all sport-related crimes growing up, Kim, treated us to an NHL game to watch the Ottawa Senators take on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not only did we kick some Penguin butt, we were then spoiled with a VIP tour courtesy of the Senator’s Video Coach extraordinaire (aka Kim’s husband ). We visited the dressing room where the distinct smell of victory lingered, and took turns pretending to be Neil and Spezza on the home bench.
5. Did I mention we watched a lot of Harry Potter?
How was your holiday season this year? Did you survive the Icestorm of 2013!?