Canada’s Rideau Canal is over 125 miles of peaceful, scenic waterways, used primarily for boating. Historically, it was used for transport, but these days, it’s mostly pleasure boating. It’s the oldest continually operated canal system on the continent, and is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it a great place to spend a calm afternoon on the water– tons of landmarks line the route. But the historic canal, opened originally in 1832, isn’t just useful for boats; even though the locks shut once winter sets in, the waterway is put to good use… as the world’s largest ice skating rink.
Each January, a 4.8 mile-long section of the canal is cleared away and frozen over– turning it into the massive skating rink. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly the size of 90 Olympic hockey rinks. The dates are flexible, depending on the weather, but when the Skateway is open, it’s open 24 hours a day– in case you get the urge for a midnight spin on the ice. They’re really good at updating the public on the condition of the ice, and they’ll rent you skates (or even a sleigh!) if you don’t happen to have your own. Other than renting skates, visiting the skateway is totally free!
Besides being the largest skating rink, there are tons of things to do along the canal. During the day, you can purchase snacks, like coffee, hot chocolate, pancakes, maple taffy and (best of all) the doughy, fried Beaver’s Tails, from kiosks along the rink. You can see the fairy-tale-like Chateau Laurier and other landmarks as you make your way down the skateway as it runs through the city– it all looks so lovely covered in snow! Imagine being one of the lucky Canadians who can skate to work each season– pretty cool!
Prep to turn the canal into a safe skateway starts in October– various ramps, stairs, and hookups are installed, the ice is constantly being tested for safety, and snow is always being removed to ensure a smooth rink. If cracks do appear, they’re filled in each morning when water is flooded onto the ice to smooth it out. And if you see holes along the edges, fear not: they’re supposed to be there to provide even more water for a slick and slippery skating experience. The skateway is the focal point of Ottowa’s Winterlude festival, which also features ice slides, snow sculptures, skating performances, displays, and more, all across the city. All great reasons why we consider Ottoway to be the world’s ultimate winter wonderland.
Originally published 16 December 2015
More winter fun…