The Rideau Canal at night
There is nothing better than a late-evening skate on the canal. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Canal will not feature concession stands or fire pits this year

On Sunday morning, the National Capital Commission (NCC) opened a 5.7 kilometre stretch of ice to skaters on the Rideau Canal. Spanning from Delaware Avenue to Bronson Avenue, the new stretch opened only a couple of days after the NCC officially opened the Rideau Canal Skateway on Jan. 28.

This year’s festivities have strict COVID-19 regulations in place to prevent the spread of the virus during the skateway’s 51st season. 

The new protocols will give skaters a very different experience when compared to years passed as here will be no changing facilities, no skate rentals, no picnic tables or fire pits. And sadly, there will also be no Beaver Tails. 

In order to promote safety on the ice, there will be resting benches, sanitization stations and two-directional stairs. Skaters must wear masks and practice social distance when on the canal. 

According to the NCC, the Rideau Canal Skateway normally receives over one million visitors per year so restrictions are not a surprise. 

A busy skateway means increased risk of COVID-19 transmission and for this very reason, the NCC urges only local skaters to visit the world’s largest skating rink. 

“We suggest that residents across the National Capital Region access those NCC assets closest to their home, within their province of residence,” said NCC spokesperson, Maryam EL-Akhrassa.

“The Skateway will not be a tourist destination as in prior years, it will really be a space where people from the most densely populated areas of Ottawa can get outdoors and exercise while [practicing] safe physical distancing.” 

For those who long for exercise, skating can replace currently closed gyms and other recreational services. 

“Our goal at the National Capital Commission is to provide space for mental and physical well-being, while encouraging consistency with current provincial public health stay-at-home orders,” notes El-Akhrassa.

The opening of the Rideau Canal Skateway will also alleviate pressure off other busy skating rinks across the city, including the ‘Rink of Dreams’ at City Hall and the Skating Rink at Lansdowne Park. 

The Canal is a favorite winter activity of students, with many flocking to the Skateway annually for the first week of it’s opening.

Recent University of Ottawa graduate Stephen Hickson shared his experience with skating on the canal on Jan. 30. “I skate pretty much every year. Everything was pretty much the same except no access to indoor shacks and no food stands.”

“Today was busy, but that’s to be expected for the first Saturday of the year,” said Hickson. “The NCC advertised that there were additional benches to put your skates on with adequate physical distancing but I didn’t notice any more benches than normal.”

U of O students who wish to hop on the canal off Nicolas Street will still have to wait as the stretch between the Rideau Rest Area and Delaware Avenue is still closed. It is currently unclear when the NCC plans to open the full canal but it could be a matter of days.