Ice, ice, maybe? Canal keeners anxiously await good news

With temperatures set to rise above zero once again, skaters in Ottawa are on edge.

As temperatures get ready to rise again, skateway's opening is anyone's guess

Workers flood the Rideau Canal Skateway near Lansdowne Park. The ice has to be 30 centimetres thick before the National Capital Commission will declare the skating season open. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

The Rideau Canal Skateway will open in x days and stay open for y days in 2020, but no one can solve for the unknown.

The National Capital Commission, which won't open the popular attraction until the ice is at least 30 centimetres thick, can only urge eager skaters to remain patient.

Aynsley Morris, who's also known as "The Canalvangelist" and admits to standing on the Corktown Footbridge to cheer on the flooding crew down below, is having a hard time holding off.

"I just can't wait to be on it," Morris said. "Of course I'm anxiously waiting for the canal to open, but it doesn't look promising for this week."

A man skates with a stroller on the Rideau Canal Skateway on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

No big chill

Environment Canada is calling for a high of 5 C on Friday — appalling news for canal keener Stephanie Small.

"So terrible. I can't believe I used to always hate winter, and I would have loved this warm weather. But now that I love skating on the canal I actually want it to be minus 10," Small said.

"It's how I stay sane and happy in the winter."

Skating conditions were less than ideal on Family Day 2019, when slush covered much of the ice surface near Fifth Avenue. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Small said she's skated every day the canal has been open for the past three seasons.

"Every time I went out I felt better when I came back, and it just made the winter fly by." 

Crews resumed flooding on Sunday, the NCC said. They had started to work on the ice before Christmas, but mild temperatures set them back.

The NCC says it needs to be –10 C or colder to make quality ice. Spokesperson Cédric Pelletier wouldn't reveal how thick the ice is now because it's not a consistent thickness along the length of the canal, he said.

Last season the canal opened on Dec. 30, and stayed open until March 10, with a total of 59 skating days. More than 1.49 million people laced up, according to the NCC. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

'It's going to get cold again'

Morris remains optimistic.

"This is Ottawa. It's going to get cold again," she noted hopefully.

Skaters enjoy the smooth surface on Patterson Creek on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. It was the earliest start of the skating season since 2004. (The Canadian Press)

Last year was a particularly good season, starting Dec. 30 and offering 59 skating days within a 71-day window. The two previous seasons were shorter at just 25 and 35 skating days.

The latest opening day was Feb. 2, back in 2002. The shortest season on record was in 2016, with just 18 days of skating spread over 34 days. 

Morris worries about a general trend toward a shorter skating season, even though that's not really supported by the statistics — yet.

If you've ever wondered about the equipment required to whip the canal into shape, here's a list provided by the NCC.

  • Eight augers.
  • Sixteen pumps.
  • Thirteen tractors, some equipped with snow blowers and others with sweepers.
  • Four pickup trucks with plows and trailers.
  • One "Froster" — a custom vehicle that looks like a Zamboni pulling an enormous squeegee.
  • Five ATVs for flooding.
  • Two more ATVs for snow removal
  • One snowmobile.
  • Twenty shovels for the stairs.


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