Lengthy cold snap not long enough for Rideau Canal Skateway

It seems the lengthy cold snap that gripped much of the country didn't last long enough for the Rideau Canal to freeze over.

NCC blames warmer temperatures earlier in December for delaying Rideau Canal opening

Boxing Day was the first time the ice was thick enough for National Capital Commission workers to start flooding the Rideau Canal ice surface safely. (CBC News)

It seems the lengthy cold snap that gripped much of the country wasn't long enough for the Rideau Canal to freeze over.

After days of extreme cold warnings and a week of overnight lows that plunged deep into the –20s, crews are still preparing ice to allow skaters to venture out on the 7.8-kilometre-long ice rink.

But despite the bone-chilling temperatures that convinced many revellers to spend their holidays indoors and even cancelled some New Year's Eve events, National Capital Commission (NCC) spokesperson Jean Wolff said Mother Nature hasn't done enough just yet.

While Ottawa did enter a cold stretch early in December, Wolff said, any progress made toward building the ice melted away when temperatures returned above the freezing point midway through the month.

About a million people take to the Rideau Canal Skateway each season, according to the NCC. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

"We don't know why during the first part in December the water was not freezing, but it did not freeze," he said. "There's nothing we can do about that."

"It's an open, natural ice [surface]," Wolff added. "We can nudge it along, speed it up with additional flooding. But nature has to take its course."

It typically takes at least 10 nights with temperatures below –10 C to build proper ice, according to the NCC. Wolff said it was only on Boxing Day that the ice was deemed thick enough for workers to start flooding the skateway safely.

Crews focused on safety

Crews have been working full-time to build the ice since last Thursday, Wolff said, with as many as 40 workers out on the ice over the holiday weekend.

"We know [the Rideau Canal] is the icon of the capital in winter," Wolff said. "Our work is to make it enjoyable for everybody. Enjoyable for everybody means also safe. It is the equivalent of 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks, and we want every square metre we open to be safe for everybody."

NCC spokesperson Jean Wolff said his team is focused on making sure the skateway is safe. (CBC)

Wolff also dismissed suggestions that perceived delays opening the Rideau Canal have anything to cutting costs, noting that the budget for the skateway was boosted this year to $1.4 million.

About a million people take to the Rideau Canal Skateway each season, according to the NCC.

Other outdoor rinks operational

Jantine Van Kregten, Ottawa Tourism's director of communications, said that despite the sometimes frigid temperatures, skating the world's largest naturally frozen skating rink is a bucket-list activity for Canadians and international tourists alike, and they're hoping the canal will open soon.

"We're chomping at the bit," she said. "Mother Nature has being doing her part and the crews have been doing their part, so we're hopeful that it will open soon."

Still, there's no shortage of outdoor skating opportunities for those who insist on braving the cold temperatures.

"There truly hasn't been a better season to come for skating in Ottawa," Van Kregten said, pointing out several other rinks that are open to the public.

The Canada 150 rink on Parliament Hill will be open to skaters through Feb. 25, while Rideau Hall's skating rink will be open every weekend until mid-March.

Skaters can also take to the Senators Rink of Dreams at City Hall or the skating court at Lansdowne Park — not to mention more than 250 public outdoor rinks across the city.