As I have lived in Ottawa for 20 years, the Rideau Canal is no mystery to me. At least once a year, I strap on my skates and enjoy the world’s longest skating rink. With the temperature this past weekend at a high of only -3° C, my boyfriend and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for an afternoon of ice skating. It proved to be an active day of exploration that allowed us to really appreciate winter once again.
We began our day late in the afternoon, but managed to find a parking spot near Fifth Avenue in the Glebe. We made our way to Dow’s Lake (a five-minute walk), arriving at the docking station for the Canal. After taking our seats on a bench by the fire in order to tie up our dusty skates, we were soon shakily travelling along the 179-year-old man-made waterway. Along the route, we took our time to enjoy and experience the many Winterlude displays. For those who don’t have their own skates – you can rent some here!
Winterlude, the National Capital’s winter celebration, is held in Ottawa-Gatineau in February, and is closely associated with the Rideau Canal. Built between 1826 and 1832 under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, the Canal is considered to be one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century. However, the first skating season wasn’t until the winter of 1970-1971, when National Capital Commission (NCC) chair Douglas Fullerton had the idea to use the frozen canal for skating. The Rideau Canal has made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sleek-looking shelters are used by visitors wishing to warm up or put on their skates. Winding its way through the heart of Canada’s Capital from Dow’s Lake to the National Arts Centre, it’s quite a long trek… the equivalent of 90 Olympic-size hockey rinks stretched end-to-end.
After our lengthy expedition, we indulged in a much-deserved Canadian staple: the Beavertail – a line of fried dough pastries, individually hand-stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail – and hot chocolate. The Beavertail chain originated in Killaloe, Ont., in 1978 and opened its first permanent store in Ottawa in 1980. Now, there are many places where you can stop along the Canal for a Beavertail treat.
Soon enough, we were ready to make our way back to the car. It was during a moment on this journey when I realized that skating is not only a unique exercise, or a leisurely weekend family activity, but a patriotic endeavor that makes me feel totally Canadian, eh?