Rhéal Leroux’s big idea
faced a big chill when it launched in 1979. But that was the whole point. The festival’s founder envisioned a celebratory “break” from winter’s doldrums — an “interlude” if you will. Millions — tourists and locals alike — have followed his lead ever since.
“We had a vision driven by the privilege of being home to the Rideau Canal,” says the National Capital Commission’s former public events director (1979-1984). “I thought ‘skating is great’ but we can do so much more.” In Leroux’s doting eyes, Winterlude has equalled — if not surpassed — Quebec’s Winter Carnival.
The annual Ice-Carving Masters Invitational, launched in 2003, is a frozen bedrock of today’s Winterlude — as is the charitable Bed Race along the Canal. During Leroux’s years at the helm, unorthodox races and competitions became part of Winterlude’s early identity. A curling tourney was added in year two, barrel jumping was rolled into the mix, and organizers introduced horse racing on the Canal to replicate harness races held on the frozen Ottawa