Ottawa families reveal their winter traditions

From homemade festivals to beach vacations, Ottawa-area families share their most cherished winter traditions, which allow them to make the most of the long, cold season, catch up with loved ones and create lifelong memories.


For a few years now, the Ball family, including my in-laws, has gathered at Montebello over Family Day weekend. We look forward to sports and games, but most importantly, making family time count, with cousins running wild together and parents relaxing by the fire. With these memories in mind, I spoke to Ottawa-area parents about family traditions they enjoy when the cold weather hits.

“Winters can be long in Ottawa and having fun winter traditions gives us all something to look forward to,” says Cynara Corbin.

Corbin and husband Philip Pietersma are parents to Charlotte, 6, and Rowan, 3. One tradition this Metcalfe family looks forward to is the Hockey Classic, initiated by Pietersma’s family about 25 years ago.

Photo: Philip Pietersma

Photo: Philip Pietersma

“Typically, the Hockey Classic involves lots of competitive spirit and showmanship, good food, and the chance to reconnect with extended family,” says Pietersma.

“My mother and father have always made a huge effort to ensure that the Hockey Classic remains a key event in the family calendar.

“As a father, I see the importance of the Classic beyond just the ‘fun’ factor I enjoyed as a boy – this event gives my kids the opportunity to connect with their cousins and to get to know their extended cousins. This is very important … these relationships will last their lifetimes.”

Joanna McMahon has fond memories of many winter traditions in her close-knit family, including the Gilmer Family Curling Bonspiel organized by her late grandfather, who still participated in his early 90s.

McMahon says she realized the importance of family early on, a value she shares with husband Terry. “Every year that we continue to take part in these traditions, it brings me right back to my childhood. That magical time of year when the snow falls.

“These are the traditions that have brought my extended family together year after year. They were also what made us want to start our own traditions.”

Photo: Joanna McMahon

Photo: Joanna McMahon

The McMahons have taken advantage of living in the Glebe, close to the Rideau Canal, to introduce daughter Hazel, 2, to Winterlude as a family tradition, with their priorities being “skating and viewing the ice sculptures, and maybe a Beavertail or two.”

For Alyson Vienneau of Stittsville, her family’s main tradition is going “sliding,” as she grew up calling sledding in Newfoundland. Her father introduced it to her five-year-old son, Liam, at 18 months old.

Alyson Vienneau, her husband Kevin, and their son, Liam. Photo: Krista Petch

Alyson Vienneau, her husband Kevin, and their son, Liam. Photo: Krista Petch

Vienneau says she loves seeing the joy on her husband Kevin’s face as he goes down the hill. The laughter when the inevitable wipeout occurs is a “great family bonding experience.” They go often, with her parents joining when they’re in town. And their tradition always includes hot chocolate.

Meanwhile, some families make it a tradition to take a winter trip.

Alta Vista’s Megan Ellis and Earl Nichol visit a chalet with friends every December, as they have done for years. They enjoy the outdoors, read by the fire, play games, and relax.

“The chalet has been a getaway,” says Nichol. “We are able to disconnect from the everyday.”

And as their friends have kids, says Ellis, the group grows larger.

This year, the couple look forward to including their six-month-old son Cameron. “Once he gets older, I think he and the other kids in the group will have a blast playing together,” says Nichol.

Going south can be a popular tradition for Ottawa-area families. Sarah Arbour and Mike Kam of Stittsville go on a kid-friendly sun vacation every winter with Arbour’s extended family. New daughter Morgan, almost six months, will join them and older daughter Ella, 5, this year.

Their plans include day trips, hanging out by the water and playing lots of board games. And Arbour says “phones, Facebook, and work” are abandoned and quality time is the focus, which makes their trips meaningful.

Some families, however, keep their traditions as simple as possible.

Smiths Falls mom Ann Marie Frankovitch and daughters Lauren, 14, Natalie, 13, and Stella, 10, love the outdoors, and have a family tradition of “looking for fresh, untouched snow to make snow angels, fun words, shapes, and forts.”

And they always end the season at Wheelers Pancake House and Sugar Camp in the Lanark Highlands. “Because of the simplicity of our traditions, the opportunity for it to happen every year is definite,” says Frankovitch, adding, “the girls look forward to these adventures and will often reminisce on previous years.”

And McMahon reflected on the deep meaning of such traditions.

“Seeing the enjoyment that the younger generation gets from these traditions reminds me of why they started in the first place, and why I want to work hard to keep them.

“I feel like you can actually see people making memories.”

TELL US: What are your family’s winter traditions, and what makes them so special? Email