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Warm weather plagues Winterlude's opening day

Winterlude's Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park on Thursday. Organizers are delaying the opening by one day because of weather conditions.   (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Winterlude's Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park on Thursday. Organizers are delaying the opening by one day because of weather conditions. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

It's a soggy start to Winterlude in Ottawa-Gatineau, with the opening of a main attraction pushed back a day because of mild conditions.

The annual festival opened Friday morning and runs until Feb.19. Organizers announced Thursday that the opening of the Snowflake Kingdom, the popular site for ice slides and other activities in Gatineau's Jacques-Cartier Park, was postponed from Friday to Saturday.

Organizers said they had made enough snow to cover the area, but now they need more.

"Since last week it's very warm, we lost a certain width of thickness of snow," said Benoit Brière, the City of Gatineau's co-ordinator of the Snowflake Kingdom.

Brière said work will be done Friday and everything will be ready Saturday, including the large snow sculptures that live at the venue.

"Ninety per cent of the carving is done. The snow is more soft so it's more difficult for the carvers to make some details, but since our carvings are facing north, we are capable (of keeping) them," he said.

Ice sculptors face difficulties

The warmer weather is top of mind for the ice carvers on Sparks Street as well. The forecast from Environment Canada predicts sunny skies, high temperatures hovering just below zero and lows around –10 C for the first week of the festival.

Ice sculptor Ross Baisas said that means it could take longer for a piece to fuse and the melting time will be increased. Fragile attachments are also at risk of coming off sooner than an artist would like.

The sun can also be a big enemy, he said.

Ice sculptor Ross Baisas says the warm weather and the UV light from the sun in the forecast can greatly affect ice sculptures.
Ice sculptor Ross Baisas says the warm weather and the UV light from the sun in the forecast can greatly affect ice sculptures.

Ice sculptor Ross Baisas says the warm weather and the UV light from the sun in the forecast can greatly affect ice sculptures. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

"The UV (light) can penetrate the ice, that makes it fragile. That's the reason sometimes the sculpture crashes for no reason," Baisas said.

UV light can also make the ice look more white, which is why sculptures will be covered in protective wraps at times.

Canal hasn't reopened

This isn't the first time the festival has had to bow to Mother Nature: last year organizers had to postpone outdoor events due to extreme cold.

Even with those frigid temperatures, the Rideau Canal Skateway didn't open last year and it isn't open again either for the start of this year's festival

Despite partly opening for four days in January, the canal closed again when warm weather rolled in.

That means vendors will lose the large number of patrons lacing up.

A view of the Rideau Canal, which needs 30 centimetre thick ice to accommodate skaters.
A view of the Rideau Canal, which needs 30 centimetre thick ice to accommodate skaters.

A view of the Rideau Canal early last month. The National Capital Commission says the ice needs to be at least 30 centimetres thick before it can open safely for skating. (CBC)

"We're still in limbo, we're not too sure what's going to happen because of the inclement weather. It's always a bit disappointing," said Adam Malmberg, a partner and business development director with Dunrobin Distilleries.

That company signed a three-year contract and missed out completely last year. In the brief window the canal opened last month there wasn't enough time to get their hut on the ice.

"It definitely would have cemented a lot of revenue growth for us and just get our drinks in people's hands. (It) would have been a stellar opportunity," Malmberg said.

According to the National Capital Commission, ideal ice-making conditions are between –10 and –20 C, which are forecast the next several nights.

There are still many events that shouldn't be affected by the weather, such as art installations on Sparks Street and in the ByWard Market along with the large slate of performances.