History of the Rideau Canal Skateway - The Glebe BIA

History of the Rideau Canal Skateway

January 26, 2023

Ready, set, skate (soon anyway)!

Let’s all send some ice cold wishes to the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is still currently closed. As we eagerly await its opening, we thought it might be fun to look at the history of the world’s longest skating rink. New to Ottawa? An Ottawa native? I bet there will something here you didn’t know!

Let’s take it back to the beginning -

The Rideau Canal was constructed on a ravine that had served as an important traveling and trading route for the Indigenous peoples. The Algonquin peoples have lived in the Ottawa Valley for many generations, thousands of years before the Europeans arrived in North America.

It was later expanded after the War of 1812, as a secure war-time supply route for British troops and supplies. The route ran from Montreal to the settlements of Upper Canada and the naval dockyard in Kingston. The Rideau Canal opened in the spring 1832 after six years of hard labour from 4,000 or more workers.

The total number of wars between the United States and Canada since the canal opened is a whopping... zero wars. Which means that over the years, the canal has become a historic site for boating, fishing and skating. People havs been skating on the canal for many years, but the skateway’s official debut took some time.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="502"] An ice hockey game on the canal on Christmas Day, 1901[/caption]

In January 1971, a team of NCC employees with brooms and shovels cleared a small section of ice between the Mackenzie King and Laurier bridges. It was then extended as a six-metre-wide skating track to Dows Lake, a distance of about 5 km. Now, each winter, the historic Rideau Canal, becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s longest skating rink (take that Winnipeg!). Today, the Rideau Canal Skateway spans over 7.8 km through the heart of the Capital and is a key site for Winterlude celebrations each year. The average skating season is 50 days, but the record is 95 days (1971-1972 season).

The canal (and, when it’s opened, the skateway) wraps beautifully around the Glebe neighbourhood meaning you can enjoy the site and then hunker down for a meal or a show in our hood! Or if you’ve got some pep in your step, you can visit some of our local shops. Paths beside the canal are maintained all winter, so you can take a canal-side stroll anytime you like. National Capital Commission staff can sometimes be spotted working their winter magic on the canal to help it become safe for all of us to use. The ice must be 30 cm in thickness for the Rideau Canal Skateway to open. This means there needs to be about 10-14 straight days of -10 to -20 degree Celsius days for the quality of the ice to meet the standards of safe skating! That’s a bit more chill than Hottawa’s been so far this winter.

Here are some historical dates for you:

1971: The very first season of the Rideau Canal Skateway!
1979: Winterlude launches.
1980: The Skateway hosts the first edition of the international Outdoor Curling Challenge at Dows Lake. This event becomes an annual tradition.
1981: BeaverTails become a part of the Skateway experience. Prior to 1981, the popular pastry was called “The Elephant Ear,” but the name was later changed to make it more Canadian.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="325"] NCC ice experts in 1987 drill holes in the ice to measure the depth, flood the canal and smooth the skating surface.[/caption]

2004: The Skateway hosts Hockey Day in the Capital, where more than 100 simultaneous shinny hockey games take place along the ice.
2005: The Skateway is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world.
2007: The Rideau Canal becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, that same year, the NCC fine-tunes its ice-building process by flooding the surface of the ice.
2011: “The Froster,” a new ice re-surfacer, revolutionizes maintenance of the Skateway.
2017: The Skateway hosts 150 hockey games to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. It is also selected as the best ice-skating rink in North America by the readers of USA Today.
2018: Lonely Planet names the Skateway one of North America’s most spectacular winter destinations.
2018–2019: The Skateway welcomes 1,493,524 visits — a new record!
2022: For the first time in over 20 years, skaters were able to enjoy the full 7.8 kilometres of the iconic Rideau Canal Skateway on opening day.

Winterlude begins on February 3, 2023, and runs all the way to Family Day, Monday, February 20, 2023. Come enjoy a skate on the canal and don’t forget to pop into the Glebe for a hot chocolate, or two!