Rhéal Ler­oux’s big idea

Where Ottawa - - HERE & NOW -

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

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