Please help keep this Site Going

Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

For the First Time in 52 Years, There’s No Skating Through the Capital

For the First Time in 52 Years, There’s No Skating Through the Capital

A winter of gyrating temperatures and rainfalls caused officials to give up on the “world’s largest skating rink.”

While people in the Ottawa area were reluctant to admit it, the announcement on Friday was widely expected: For the first time since its creation 52 years ago, the Rideau Canal Skateway, which bills itself as the “world’s largest skating rink,” will not open this season.

A snow-covered city scene at night, with a frozen canal in the foreground and buildings in the distance.
The Rideau Canal Skateway on Thursday, the night before officials abandoned plans to open it.Ian Austen/The New York Times
The same section of the canal in January 2022.Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

The canal had already long passed its previous latest opening date of Feb. 2. And Winterlude, the winter festival held on the first three weekends of February, had already come and gone without its signature attraction. Then this week, BeaverTails, the maker of flattened pastries that have become synonymous with skating on the canal, gave up and removed all but one of its kiosks from the skateway.

As I wrote last year in an article about skating in and around Ottawa, the effects of climate change have long been a worry for the operators of the canal, which in a normal year welcomes 1.5 million skaters.

[Read: Ice Skating at a Rink is Fun. Gliding Through a Forest? Glorious.]

(Before anyone writes in, I acknowledge that residents of Ottawa, including me, are spoiled by enjoying a skateway created by the federal government, even if it is shared by visitors from across Canada and the world.)

While the canal historically has opened for 50 skating days a season, the shortest season until this year came in 2016, when people could take to the ice for only 18 days. Last season, skating ended on March 5 after 41 opening days.

The weather this season was particularly ill-suited for the canal. While there have been cold snaps, they have been repeatedly followed by prolonged warm spells that often brought rain.

I contacted Shawn Kenny, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carleton University who is part of a group working with the National Capital Commission, the government agency in charge of the skateway, to find ways to extend or at least salvage the skating season.

He told me that while the gyrating temperatures were certainly a big factor in the canal frustration, there was also another major issue.

“The problem, I think, is that it is not necessarily good, clear ice,” he wrote in an email. The canal is now covered by a layer of what he called “snow ice that has probably 50 percent less bearing capacity” than pure ice.

Compounding the issue have been frequent snowfalls after the thaws. The resulting blanket of snow, he said, is remarkably good at insulating the canal and preventing the formation of ice strong enough to safely support thousands of skaters and the tractors, trucks and other pieces of heavy equipment used to clean, flood and maintain the ice.

After fitting sensors in the ice and using radar to profile it last season, the Carleton group experimented early this season with a slush gun, a watery variation of the artificial snow cannons used at ski resorts, to jump-start ice formation. But that technique couldn’t overcome the broad weather pattern.

The canal, of course, isn’t the only ice skating game in town. While out for a walk a couple of weeks ago, I came across a group of local drag performers and a Winterlude teddy bear mascot skating on an artificial ice pad next to the canal in Landsdowne Park. It appeared to be backup plan for “The Ice Parade, Canada’s first-ever Pride parade on ice,” originally scheduled to be held on the canal itself. The artificial rink in front of City Hall was also busier than usual.

Patinage en Forêt and other skate trails in and around Ottawa have managed to open.Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

But, as I wrote last year, Ottawa has another option for natural ice skating: ice trails running through forests, including Icelynd, a creation of Chris Neil, who played in the National Hockey League for 17 years.

I called Dave Mayer, who pioneered trail skating in the area with his Patinage en Forêt in Lac des Loups, Quebec, north of the capital.

He told me that his season opened on Dec. 15. With the exception of nine days over the key Christmas period and four other days, Mr. Mayer said that his trails have been in operation ever since. The trail operators have two advantages over the canal: The forest shades their ice on sunny, warm days. And their ice rests directly on the ground, not above still-flowing water, allowing it to be thinner yet still strong enough to support machinery.

But the thaws have added to Mr. Mayer’s workload, particularly when he and his crew have needed to quickly clear snow that’s come down after warm spells to prevent it from sticking to the ice.

While he was not gloating, Mr. Mayer did benefit from the canal’s misfortune. He said that many tourists brought their skates to his trail this season after arriving in Ottawa to find the gates to the canal closed.

“We were really happy that they didn’t come to Ottawa for nothing,” he said. “But the Rideau Canal, it’s really sad.”

Trains still run through the site of Lac Mégantic, Quebec’s former downtown.Ian Willms for The New York Times

The Trans Canada section was compiled by Vjosa Isai, a reporter-researcher for The Times in Canada.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

How are we doing?
We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to

Like this email?
Forward it to your friends, and let them know they can sign up here

Please help keep this Site Going