Great Skate #45: Rideau Canal Skateway, Ottawa

"You should skate on the canal in Ottawa" is something I've been told many times since starting my Great Skate Project. I finally did on January 6, making the Rideau Canal Skateway my Great Skate #45.

As a student at Carleton University, I often skated on the canal. I don't recall it having the "skateway" name then, and it wasn't named a UNESCO World Heritage site until 2007, but the canal had two things then that it's still famous for today: more than 7 kilometres of skating, with Beavertail stands along the way.

Because the canal is "natural" ice (with no artificial refrigeration), the weather has a big impact on its skating season. The ice needs to be 12 inches thick before it is ready for skating. I was lucky that it opened during my Ottawa visit.


My intrepid cousin Ben joined me for a morning skate on my last day in Ottawa. The sky was a brilliant blue, but the temperature was just as cold as it had been for our Parliament Hill skate the night before.

Ben and I started our skate at the Dow's Lake end. The ice was hard and smooth, but long cracks meant that you had to watch where your blades went.

With the wind at our backs, we headed for the Bronson Avenue rest area on the other side of the lake, and enjoyed the mandatory snack of canal skating: Beavertails. These are flat pastries, similar to donuts, with sweet or savoury toppings. I ordered a classic "Killaloe Sunrise" (lemon juice and sugar) and Ben got a heartier garlic and cheese flavour. They were delicious.

The rest area had picnic benches around a fire, heated washrooms and a warm cabin for changing in and out of your skates. Or, as Ben and I did, for waiting for the feeling to come back into our toes before heading back onto the ice.

We skated as far as the Fifth Avenue rest area (and another Beavertail stop for Ben). There were other skaters out, but often we had whole stretches of ice to ourselves.

Of course, the farther you go on the canal, the farther you have to come back. Returning to our starting point meant crossing Dow's Lake again, this time heading into the wind. It was brutally cold, but exhilarating.

Facts about the Rideau Canal Skateway:
  • total length is 7.8km from downtown Ottawa to Dow's Lake
  • the ice surface is equivalent to 90 Olympic ice hockey rinks
  • 2018 is the 48th skating season on the canal
  • access is free, and you can skate 24 hours a day (as long as the ice is in good condition)
  • the Skateway has an average of one million visits a year
Source: Wikipedia

One of the rest areas along the Rideau Canal Skateway.


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