Ontarians outside of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community might think of Pride as something that is celebrated in June or — in the case of Ottawa — in August.

But the capital’s Winter Pride celebration, now woven into Ottawa-Gatineau’s Winterlude festival, demonstrates how embracing diversity is something to be done year-round.

Winter Pride started in 2019 when Canadian Heritage, which organizes Winterlude, partnered with Capital Pride to incorporate more 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive events into its winter festival.

Dancing, drag story time and ice skating with Pride were just a few of the family-friendly events offered as a part of the 46th Winterlude funfest.

Performers and organizers of this year’s festivities spread the message that Pride should be celebrated every month.

Cecelia White, director of operations at Capital Pride, said: “Pride is something we need to be thinking about year-round.”

Winterlude is a huge event. It’s been running for decades and it’s renowned in Ottawa. So, having Winter Pride run alongside it really shows that Ottawa cares about the queer community.

Zak Zinya, drag king

Melanie Brault, director of capital celebrations at Canadian Heritage, said Winter Pride was created to increase representation and inclusion in the nation’s capital.

Brault said she remembers seeing the positive effects of Winterlude’s diverse programming during last year’s festival.

“I remember seeing smiles from ear to ear of young folks who were with their parents, family or friends, and that was really heartwarming for me to see,” she said. “I thought this was an opportunity for us to keep offering opportunities for folks to see themselves represented in our community.”

Whether you took a stroll on Sparks Street to watch a drag performance, stopped in at the Mayfair Theatre for movie night or hit the ice at Lansdowne for a skate, sentiments of inclusivity, acceptance and love could be found.

Drag performer singing on stage in front of Winterlude sign
Ottawa Drag Queen Karamilk says identity needs to be celebrated more than ever now that 2SLGBTQIA+ communities have the freedom to express themselves at events like Winter Pride. [Photo © Madison Eldridge]

Even the warm weather couldn’t put a damper on Winter Pride as the Family Drag on Ice event was relocated to the pavement, and the first ever Ice Parade — which had been scheduled to take place on the Rideau Canal Skateway — was moved to the outdoor rink at Lansdowne on Feb. 11.

Drag king Zak Zinya, who performed at the Family Drag on Ice event, said Winter Pride is important because it provides a safe space for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and families.

“It just fills your heart with so much joy seeing queer kids and queer families coming out to celebrate queer joy and diversity,” said Zinya.  

Performers from Drag on Sparks Street also took the time to celebrate Black History Month as the three queens performing were all representatives of the BIPOC community.

Karamilk, a local drag queen, said she was honoured to be able to give youth the representation she didn’t have when she was younger.

“It was really special seeing all the kids in the front row,” Karamilk said. “After the show they were coming up to us and asking for our autographs and photos and freaking out and calling us Disney princesses. They were saying ‘I’ve never seen anyone or anything like you,’ and that was a really magical moment for me.”

Zinya said Winter Pride was a beautiful way to celebrate diversity.

“Winterlude is a huge event,” he said. “It’s been running for decades and it’s renowned in Ottawa. So, having Winter Pride run alongside it really shows that Ottawa cares about the queer community.”

Winter Pride concluded Feb. 11, but Winterlude ended Feb. 19.

“Just because Winter Pride is over and we’re waiting for the summer festivals now doesn’t mean the celebration stops,” Karamilk said. “Pride should still be celebrated 365, and we don’t need a pride festival for that. We can celebrate pride in our own way.”