This is What Winter in Ottawa Looks Like

With camera in hand, Paula Brown plays tourist in her own city, capturing the breathtaking beauty of winter in Ottawa.

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Parliament Hill (foreground) And The Fairmont Château Laurier
Parliament Hill (foreground) and the Fairmont Château Laurier hotel in the distance.

The beauty of winter in Ottawa

There are few things in life that define us better than the place we call home. This fact is more true than ever in 2020 as we self-isolate and find new ways to challenge ourselves while navigating the guidelines set out for us. Being a hometown explorer is extremely exciting with the hidden treasures, inspirations and adventures that Ottawa holds at every turn, if you just take the time to really see them. Streets, buildings, natural features, infrastructure and the surrounding environment combine to make Ottawa what it is.

For me, having lived in Ottawa for a long time, it is a photographer’s paradise. It is truly a playground of inspiration with winter and early spring being no exception. Celebrating my hometown and the surrounding area through my photography is one of my passions.

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Sculpture of teapot in downtown Ottawa.
Sculpture of a giant silver teapot in downtown Ottawa.

A photographer’s dream

Exploring the city of Ottawa and nearby Gatineau, Quebec, in both winter and early spring is wonderful. The cool (and often downright cold) air is refreshing and energizing. In the city’s downtown core, we find the Gothic Revival-style Parliament Buildings in all their historic glory, plus many excellent museums that are architectural marvels and a photographer’s dream.

As we cross the Royal Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge to Gatineau, Quebec, we are greeted by the Museum of History’s impressive fluid-like curves. There are many beautiful structures throughout the city, including the downtown area, so it is vital to venture down hidden alleyways and locations for that unique picture. One such gem is Minto Place’s giant silver teapot with an evergreen tree shooting into the sky called “Northshore” by Noel Harding. Such a fun example of public art!

Check out this striking gallery of Canadian architecture photography.

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Skating on the Rideau Canal
Skating on the Rideau Canal is a rite of winter.

Skating the Rideau Canal

Of course, Ottawa in winter includes the highly celebrated Winterlude Festival with all its activities and ice sculptures, delicious Beaver Tails plus skating on the 7.8 kilometre-long picturesque Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the largest ice rink in the world. A delicious hot chocolate and sweet Beaver Tails are a must as you navigate the length of the frozen canal with warming chalets along the way. The Sens Rink of Dreams, a refrigerated outdoor skating rink outside of Ottawa City Hall and the Lansdowne Park skating court are two more places where you can lace up your skates.

Enjoy these spectacular shots that capture the beauty of the Canadian winter.

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Winter in Ottawa - Squirrel In Winter
A cheeky squirrel at Petrie Island.

Wildlife in winter

Petrie Island is a natural wonderland with spectacular scenery and entertaining wildlife in Ottawa’s east end. I spend a lot of time photographing the wildlife and vegetation during the winter months, including chickadees, blue jays, woodpeckers and squirrels. The sunsets are spectacular over the frozen, white landscape and the ice fishermen with their colourful huts are visible on the frozen Ottawa River. Mer Bleue Bog is another terrific spot to enjoy wildlife sightings and outstanding winter flora, with its long, winding boardwalk. There are many other beautiful places in Ottawa to enjoy winter, including a little-known nature area called Heart’s Desire Forest in Barrhaven. Mudd Lake in Ottawa’s west end is yet another photographer’s paradise as is Gatineau Park in Gatineau, Quebec. Bundle up as it is a perfect time to explore nature in all its peaceful beauty.

Don’t miss this gallery of great Canadian bird photography.

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Winter in Ottawa - Princess Louise Falls in Orleans, Ontario
Princess Louise Falls in Orleans, Ontario.

Ottawa’s hidden gems

Another relatively unknown gem in Orleans is Princess Louise Falls tucked modestly into Fallingbrook Forest. Such an unexpected find and what a difference in the pictures taken in summer and winter. Nearby Fallingbrook Falls is another photo opportunity not to be missed. Of course, there are the Rideau Falls, which are two waterfalls found in Ottawa, where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River. What a spectacular sight in early March as the water crashes down the falls producing mist among the water and ice, signalling the coming of spring.

Explore more hidden gems across Canada.

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Winter in Ottawa - Syrup cabin in winter
A local sugar shack.

Satisfy your maple syrup craving

Maple syrup season is a sweet rite of spring. It is made in the short span of time between the end of winter, and “not quite spring.” How delicious the syrup is! The Ottawa area has wonderful pancake houses and sugar shacks complete with horse-drawn sleighs, trails, sap collecting, and meals that include pancakes, sausage, beans and pure maple syrup! I’m getting hungry writing about it! (Here are more must-try Canadian dishes—and the best places to find them!)

It is a time when the snow is receding, the days are not as cold, and early bulbs poke through the soil in my garden. The crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils are so beautiful and you know that spring is right around the corner. My mountain ash tree supplies overwintered berries for the robins and cedar waxwings.

Ottawa explodes with colour as beds of over 200 species of tulips come to life after the winter thaw with the beginning of the Canadian Tulip Festival! What a fantastic event it is with parades, concerts, fireworks and, of course, tulips!

Craving colour? You’ll love this gorgeous gallery of Canada in bloom.

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Winter in Ottawa - Snow globe
An Ottawa winter scene reflected in a glass sphere.

Helpful hints for photographing winter in Ottawa

Now that we have talked about places to take pictures in Ottawa in the winter/spring time frame, let us chat briefly about cold weather photography. I have found these tips to be helpful. In winter, sunrises are later, while sunsets are earlier, something to keep in mind for landscape photography. A zoom lens gives you more flexibility as you look for that hidden gem. It is hard to be motivated when you are uncomfortable, so dressing in layers is valuable. Make sure you have extra batteries as the cold weather drains batteries faster, and charge the battery in your camera before you embark on your adventure. Protect your gear with camera covers or even your jacket in snowy weather. My camera is weather-resistant, but I am still cautious. I keep lens cloths with me for those moments when I get drops on my lens. As I have hoods for all my lenses, this does not happen too often.

Gratitude is a word that comes to mind as I think of winter in Ottawa as I am surrounded by such beauty and stillness. May your experience in your hometown, with camera in hand, be as rewarding! COVID-19 lockdowns do not have to interfere with your outdoor photographic enjoyment.

Think you’ve seen all our nation’s capital has to offer? Check out 10 great day trips from Ottawa.

Originally Published in Our Canada

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