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Getting Ready for the Season: Ottawa’s Rideau Canal Prepares to Open the World’s Largest Outdoor Rink

Canada’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway, is under preparation for opening later in January.

Teams have been performing flooding on the two-kilometre section of the Canal in an effort to have the skating rink open in the coming weeks.

“Last night, our teams did a partial flood on a 2 km section of the [Rideau Canal] Skateway between Somerset Street and Patterson Creek,” said a Jan. 5 post on X by the National Capital Commission (NCC).

“They use pumps to draw water from below the ice to flood the surface and help build the ice thickness needed to safely open the Skateway.”

While no dates for the skatepark have been announced yet, the NCC said it needed at least 30 centimetres of ice to open the skateway.

“Typically, it requires 10-14 days of consecutive cold weather to form a safe ice surface,” said another social media post from NCC.

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Ottawa Tourism says the rink is usually open from January until late in February or March.

“You can skate any section of the 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) thanks to its universally accessible ramps and facilities,” Ottawa Tourism said on its website.

The rink extends from downtown to Dow’s Lake, with several stops along the way where visitors can grab a hot chocolate and treat.

Visitors can skate on the canal for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week when the ice is open, NCC’s website says.

NCC says the canal was first opened in 1970–1971 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a designation that was granted in 2007.

However, the Historical Society of Ottawa (HSO) says people have been skating on the canal since the 19th century.

“In March 1874, The Globe newspaper reported that there ‘was good skating on the Rideau Canal,’” the HSO website said.

“The ribbon of ice running through the city beckoned youngsters of all ages when climatic conditions were just right for a smooth, solid ice surface to form—low temperatures for several days with little snow.”

Creating the Skateway was an idea from former NCC chair Doug Fullerton.

“They cleared a small section of ice between the Mackenzie King and Laurier bridges near the National Arts Centre,” the NCC website says.

That first year saw 50,000 local residents turn up at the canal during the first weekend it was open, the Historical Society said on its website.

It was then expanded to five kilometres.

“At the area between the bridges, lighting and music were added to increase the enjoyment of skating in the evening.”

NCC crews were responsible for keeping the ice clear of snow so visitors could enjoy it.

The Skateway is now about 7.8 kilometres and is a central point for the city’s Winterlude celebrations, which are held in February.

At Winterlude, visitors can take in a variety of activities including the Waiters and Waitresses on Ice Challenge, and Trotting on the Rideau, which is a horse race held on the Skateway.

The event attracts about 600,000 visitors each year, according to the Government of Canada Winterlude website.

NCC says that the average skating season on the Skateway lasts 50 days, with the record being 95 days, which was set in the 1971–1972 season.

In 2005, the Skateway made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest, naturally frozen ice rink in the world.

In 2018–2019, the rink saw a record number of visitors at 1,493,524, NCC said.

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