The Rideau Canal Skateway

The Rideau Canal is Skate-Way has officially opened for business this week, which is excellent because what with the frigidly cold temperatures and all, I have been dying to get outside (italics added for extra sarcastic emphasis).  In all fairness though, I wouldn’t write about it if I wasn’t a little bit enthused, it just might take me a few days to warm up to the idea (Pun definitely intended!).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ottawa, our beautiful city is proudly landmarked by The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m not a native to Ottawa, but in the years since I have lived here, I find I am marking the passing of time through the seasonal changes, specifically in relation to the Canal.

Say for instance, if by some stroke of bad luck, I fell off my bunk-bed into the middle of the night, and subsequently went into a coma and woke up after an unknown duration of time, I would walk to the canal to situate myself in time and space (granted I didn’t suffer from amnesia from said horrific fall).

In spring, the canal is adorned by tulips- hundreds of thousands of them. It’s early spring if the tulips are just popping and you have to wear a sweater and windbreaker; it’s late May when the numbers of joggers have increased in preparation for Ottawa Race Weekend; and it’s June when the sun actually warms your skin and the tulip leaves are starting to fall.

In summer you can walk on the canal deep into the dusky evening. The lights from the Chateau Laurier give a rosy glow and the moths flock to the lamp posts. Every summer I’m flooded with memories of running during the late evening hours along the Canal pathway trying to escape school work or my hot tiny apartment, which I called home during the first year I lived in Ottawa. In the early days when I had just arrived, these runs gave me something social to do when I knew no-one in the city and the alternative was staying at home to watch Law and Order SVU.

In the early fall it is still warm enough to run throughout dusk. The canal is crisp and you can usually feel that people are still trying to cling to those rosy summer nights in an evening stroll. By the end of October however, the water from the canal is gone and you will probably have to rush home because it’s liable that the sky will open up in a terrific thunderstorm.

Fall memories on the canal are the strongest ones for me.  Each year I remember the first time I saw the water leave the canal in preparation for the winter skating season.  It happened shortly after I had arrived in the city for school, and I remember the year following this, I thought to myself, “Has it truly been a year already that I have been living here? Has time passed this quickly?” And now every year it makes me think about all that had changed within the course of one short year, and how different things are from that first late summer and early fall that I explored the canal pathway.

And now it is winter again in Ottawa, and the world’s longest Skating Rink is officially open! I guess it goes without saying that even a person with amnesia could deduce it was winter as soon as you see the 7.5 km skating rink.

The entire surface from the start (at the base of Chateau Laurier) to finish (Carling University) is an area equivalent to 90 Olympic hockey rinks. It’s lined with art, warming stations, washrooms, and obviously beaver tails.

Side note: Beaver tails deserve a whole post of their own. But in an effort to make you drool now, I’ll just say they are a delicacy that can warm you up on the coldest day of the year. It’s a Canadian rite of passage to have one, and they are about 1000 calories each... Without toppings (hence the fact that Ottawateans are obsessed with running along said canal). But you have never tasted anything so marvelously warm and delicious.

While the Canal is visited by thousands of tourists each year, it is also a centrepointe for the majority of people who call Ottawa home. Some people use it to skate to work in the mornings, others have stories of great-grandparents skating through The Glebe or playing an old fashioned game of “ice” hockey (is there actually any other kind of hockey?) when they were kids.  People have been skating on the frozen surface since the turn of the Century and like any great landmark, it has helped shape in some way the characters and personalities of who the people of Ottawa really are.

Crazy to venture out? Yes.

But also not afraid to live a little, no matter what season it is.

Let the games begin!

ps. Thanks to my dear friend James... I believe he's forgotten that he gave me these pictures a few years ago : )