Orillia Winter Carnival planning underway for Feb. 11 event

By Ross McIntyre, Special to The Packet & Times

Jonathan LaChapelle bundled up as tight as possible before hitting the icey slope at the Orillia Winter Carnival in 2016.

Jonathan LaChapelle bundled up as tight as possible before hitting the icey slope at the Orillia Winter Carnival in 2016.

The Orillia Winter Carnival has been a staple of our city for decades and provides a much-needed chance to get outside and celebrate the season. This year, the carnival is back and there are some new changes to the event that will likely draw even more people out of hibernation Feb. 11. 

For those who have not been to the Orillia Winter Carnival, there is a lot to take in. The carnival also hosts the famous polar dip, when many brave jumpers plunge into Lake Couchiching in support of a local charity. This event is known for raising thousands of dollars for local charities, and this year the funds will go to the Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter. 

The polar dip is a long-standing tradition of the carnival, but this year, visitors will see a few changes as well.

Regular carnival goers will remember a few years ago the committee turned the bottom end of Mississaga Street into “Mount Mississaga” – a giant toboggan run right down the centre of main street. This unique snow run is back and the rest of the 2017 Orillia Winter Carnival will be based out of the downtown core as well. 

More and more planning groups are seeing the value of collaborating with the downtown core, including a variety of music festivals and cultural events. It draws tourism and puts a well-deserved focus on many of the local businesses that are located downtown. 

“This year, there are mostly new people involved with the committee that runs the carnival, and with that comes change,” said Mark Earl, vice-president of the Orillia Winter Carnival. “(The move to downtown) will help bring lots of people (thousands) into the downtown core, and change is a good thing.”

The carnival will make use of a variety of parking lots and the main street for a range of activities that make it easy for visitors to enjoy winter. “This year, it has the added bonus of being the first main event in Orillia’s 150th-anniversary celebrations,” said Earl. 

The carnival will include some favourites like mini-snowmobiles, the main-street toboggan run and the evening dance for adults at the Geneva Event Centre. Some new additions include a kids’ zone with activities put on by the City of Orillia and Camp Couchiching, an ice-castle-building party, a new youth dance party and a yukigassen tournament, which is Japanese for “snow battle.” The crowd-drawing polar dip will take place at 2 p.m. Feb. 11.

Visitors are encouraged to buy a winter carnival button for $2 to support the event and ensure its success in future years.

While the Orillia Winter Carnival already has many dedicated fans from the city and beyond, the organizing committee is encouraging people new to the area and the event to check it out as well. 

“(The carnival) is a great event that has something for all ages,” said Earl. “It’s a fantastic way to beat the winter blahs by engaging in an entertaining day of fun outdoor activities.” 

This is the draw for many, and this year visitors will have the added bonus of being able to pop into local shops.

The more people who get behind an event like this, the better it is for everyone. Whether that means plunging in the frozen lake, offering a sponsorship or, most importantly, taking some friends or family downtown Feb. 11, participation is key to making it a success. 

For more information, visit the Orillia Winter Carnival on Facebook or check out

Ross McIntyre is a director at Camp Couchiching and the Couchiching Community Initiative. He is passionate about outdoor education and community building. This column profiles community organizations dedicated to Orillia and opportunities for local youth engagement. If you have a column idea, email 

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