Ottawa ON, the capital of Canada, is invaded by thousands of tourists all year round. It is home to a variety of festivals ranging from the Tulip Festival in May to the Bluesfest in July and to Winterlude at the end of January. People tour the Parliament Buildings and visit the various national museums including the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Agricultural and Food Museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian War Museum. However, in winter, when the temperatures can dip far below the freezing point, visitors and locals alike rejoice in the arrival of one event – the opening of the Rideau Canal for skating.
The Rideau Canal
The Rideau Canal was constructed to ship goods on a secure route during the War of 1812. Completed in 1832, it continued to perform this task, only slowing down, then eventually ceasing after the advent of railways and highways made it inefficient. Today, bats still sail up its channel and through its series of locks. In fact, while other canal and lock systems continue to operate in North America, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operating canal system. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being so designated in 2007.
Yet, sailing is for the summer crowd. When the weather reaches that certain degree of frigidity – the experts who work on the Canal peg it at of 2°C uniformly spread from the surface to the bottom of the canal waters, it is ready to freeze over and reclaim its title “world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink.” Since the Rideau Canal stretches 7.8 kilometers (4.8 miles), every year, it retains this Guinness Record title.
The Rideau Skating Rink
The Rideau Canal first opened for skating purposes in 1971. At this time, only a portion of it was available for skating. Today, the entire length of it is accessible for skating 24 hours a day for seven days a week – assuming the weather and the ice co-operate. This varies from year-to-year with the 1971/1972 lasting 90 days. In 2019, the rink’s viability beat the annual average of 58 by remaining open for 71 days. However, this year, mild temperatures threaten to reduce its availability.
Skating on the Rideau Canal is an affordable family event. While purchasing a Beavertail, hot chocolate, or poutine along the route will cost you; there is no charge to use this ice rink. It is free, as are several heated huts along the way. You can rest inside and warm up while putting your skates on, in between skating and when you take your skates off.
If you do not own skates, you can always rent a pair. If you do not or cannot skate, you have options. You can walk close to the borders of the canal away from the majority of skaters. You can walk on the paths that are adjacent to it. You can also rent a sit-on sleigh. Skate savvy members of your party can push it around the ice while you ride.
Come and Enjoy Winter
The Rideau Canal is a canal with duo-purposes. In summer, it is used by pleasure boats of diverse sizes to sail from Kingston to Ottawa. During the winter, visitors and residents alike are encouraged to put on their skates and enjoy the outdoor pleasures of skating. They can stop and sip hot chocolate or take part in other activities associated with Winterlude. With the longest natural free skating rink in the world waiting for them, is it any wonder that Ottawa can see as many as one million visitors during this sometimes bitterly cold season.