Winterlude in Ottawa starts tomorrow – February 3. Though this may be a historic year for not being able to skate on the canal due to warm temperatures, anyone who's ever lived in Ottawa has fabulous memories of this internationally renown winter festival.
My favourite story unfolded during my first winter in the city, right after graduation from the Radio and Television Arts program at what's now TMU in Toronto. I'd just landed in Ottawa after spending the summer as a whitewater filmmaker on the Ottawa River, and was scraping together a living as a freelancer.
Fortunately, TSN had just gone on air the year before. My fellow TMU classmate Scott Moore had joined them and was throwing me bits of work to help me out. That's how I found myself out on the ice of the Rideau Canal with a camera crew on a frosty day in early February to cover the opening day of Winterlude.
It was a dream gig for me – a chance to put on my skates and chat with visitors on camera to find out what they loved most about the Festival. What could go wrong?
Plenty, as everyone who's ever done "streeters" (impromptu interviews on the street), knows. Everything was going great until I stopped to chat with a Dad and his young son. Kids usually make for TV gold so I figured this interview would be a winner.
"Hey, are you having fun?" I asked the boy. "Yes!" Rats. I forgot. Never ask a yes or no question because you can't do anything with just "Yes". "What do you like best about Winterlude?" I asked. Better question. Okay, I'm on a roll. "Beaver Tails!", the kid exclaimed.
"Crap. WTF is a beaver tail?" I thought. This was back in the 80s before this fried donut-like mouthwatering treat had become popular and, lacking any other info, I was left with only potentially lewd meanings.
Was this a trick? I started to panic. Surely nobody named a product for kids Beaver Tails. Did Scott set me up to have the kid say something embarrassing to me to see how I'd handle it? Was there a hidden camera watching me? Damn it. I took a deep breath and looked the kid square in the eyes. Nothing there but ecstasy at the prospect of OD'ing on sugar and fat.
Still, I wasn't taking any chances, Instead of asking him what a Beaver Tail was for the benefit of the TV audience, I bailed and started talking about hockey to his Dad instead.
As we skated away to look for other interview subjects, I made a mental note that became one of my golden rules for interviewing people on camera – never ask someone a question to which you don't already know the answer!
If you ever get a chance to skate on the Rideau Canal, do it! I guarantee you'll never forget it.