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Frozen In Ice: An Iconic Day

Published: January 17, 2018 7:10 pm ET

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When visitors converge on Ottawa’s Confederation Park in the heart of the nation’s capital to celebrate the 40th edition of Winterlude on February 2, they will be greeted by a crystalline ice sculpture of a life-size harness horse, complete with sulky and driver.

Winterlude, Canada’s premier winter celebration, takes place from February 2 to 19, 2018. Over the last four decades, this family-oriented event has annually attracted 700,000 visitors for three fun-filled weeks to celebrate the Canadian winter at various venues in the capital region, including the Rideau Canal, the world’s longest skateway.

Visitors to the harness ice sculpture, which is prominently placed at the entrance to Confederations Park, will take a step back in time to 1979 when 40,000 people, including Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and future Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, braved the elements to see trotters and pacers race on the slick ice of the Rideau Canal. It was the first time ice racing was conducted in Ottawa since trotters and pacers competed before crowds of four to five thousand hardy spectators on the Ottawa River in the shadow of Parliament Hill in 1898.

A pictorial display of vintage photos tracing harness racing from its roots, along with a video showcasing the inaugural ice races on the Rideau Canal, will be screened daily in the centre of the park. The video is being produced by a team of four Algonquin College students specializing in broadcasting and television.

“As the 40th anniversary of Winterlude is approaching, our goal is to show the history of the ice races on the Rideau Canal through historical pictures and video footage,” said team leader-producer, Katiya Roy.

“In collaboration with the Canadian Heritage office of the Government of Canada, we are hoping to help Canadians remember the importance of the races and how they made a difference in the community. With the help of interviews and pictures we are hopeful that we will be able to finish with a product that not only we are proud of, but everyone who sees it can also be proud of,” Roy continued.

The completion of the crystalline ice carving is a huge undertaking. A team of three men needed approximately three days to complete it. There are 32 blocks of ice in the structure, each weighing 300 pounds, for a total weight of five tons.

Sketch of the life-size ice carving, which will measure at 4.5 metres in length and stand 2.25 metres high

Confederation Park is home to the crystalline ice sculptures. This venue hosts the 31st International Ice-Carving Competition, where 26 world-renowned professional ice carvers from Russia, Japan, Canada, Poland, Indonesia, Iraq, and the Philippines will demonstrate their skills, creativity, and endurance.

Winterlude officials are inviting everyone to visit Confederation Park and have their picture taken with the horse and sulky. For harness horse people, a picture taken at this site will have special meaning and significance. Although this memento celebrates a special day in the storied history of our sport, Mother Nature’s whim will soon return it to the mighty Ottawa River, from whence it came.

Legendary Hall of Famer Stan Bergstein described the inaugural ice races on the Rideau Canal as a “major promotional coup and ice racing extravaganza on the frozen canals of downtown Ottawa that made full use of the history, drama, and colour of harness racing, and staged with full civic and governmental cooperation.”

The ice races helped harness racing achieve an unprecedented level of exposure and truly was an iconic day in Canadian harness racing history. With 700,000 people visiting Ottawa for Winterlude activities in 2018, the crystalline ice carving in Confederation Park will also provide significant additional exposure for harness racing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who, as a seven-year-old attended the inaugural ice races with his father Pierre and brothers Michel and Alexandre, has been invited to visit the crystalline ice carving.

Bill Galvin and Dr. Roly Armitage, in cooperation with the Canadian Heritage office of the Government of Canada, took part in the planning and arranged for the crystalline ice sculpture of the horse, sulky, and driver in Confederation Park. Galvin conceived and implemented the inaugural ice races on the Rideau Canal on February 4, 1979.

(Bill Galvin)

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