Ottawa

NCC going to great lengths to make slushy section of canal skateable

The National Capital Commission says it's making strides toward fixing a stubbornly slushy section at one end of the Rideau Canal Skateway.

Runoff from Laurier Avenue left patch in front of NAC a mess last year

The northernmost section of the Rideau Canal Skateway never fully froze last winter, so visitors were unable to skate its entire 7.8-kilometre length. (CBC)

The National Capital Commission says it's making strides toward fixing a stubbornly slushy section at one end of the Rideau Canal Skateway.

Last year, a patch of the skateway between Laurier Avenue and Rideau Street never fully froze. That meant for the first time in 50 years, there wasn't a single day when skaters could travel the entire 7.8 kilometre length of the canal.

According to Bruce Devine, the NCC's senior manager of facilities and programs, the trouble began with a warm snap.

The essence of the project is about [preserving] the uniqueness of skating the 7.8-kilometre distance.- Bruce Devine, NCC

"We had two or three days of mild weather and we lost some [ice] thickness." Devine told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

But there was more to it than just temperature. The section of canal in front of the National Arts Centre is shallower than elsewhere, and therefore more susceptible to the impact of runoff, which creates currents under the ice and sometimes pools on top of it.

Channeling runoff

In preparation for the upcoming skating season, crews have added a third drainage pipe to redirect runoff from Laurier Avenue.

"We're trying to funnel that water … and then slowly diffuse it in the middle of the Rideau Canal to prevent it from having a strong current … underneath the ice, so it doesn't eat at the ice from underneath," Devine explained.

Bruce Devine, the NCC's senior manager of facilities and programs, is in charge of the Rideau Canal Skateway. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

The NCC has also partnered with civil engineering students from the University of Ottawa who will take a closer look at the runoff, and hopefully devise even more effective countermeasures.

But why not just write off the patch in front of the NAC and shorten the skateway by a few hundred metres?

"It's an iconic nation's capital symbol, skating on this UNESCO world asset," said Devine. "The essence of the project is about [preserving] the uniqueness of skating the 7.8-kilometre distance."

Regular canal skater Aynsley Morris was disappointed she couldn't glide the entire stretch last year, but told CBC in an email even she's "surprised at the lengths they're going to open this [downtown] section. It's always been a rough patch to skate."

On the other hand, "it's the access spot for a lot of visitors to Ottawa and … [and] so important for the Skateway experience," Morris wrote.

The NCC is looking to adapt its operations to account for climate change. Last year it hired a firm to help plan 30 years into the future, "to see what's coming at us, and how we can be more resilient with our operations," said Devine.

The National Capital Commission is hoping the addition of a third drainage pipe to channel runoff from Laurier Avenue away from the ice surface will fix the problem. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

COVID-19 and the canal

This winter, expect to see longer, physically distanced lineups at food concessions, as well as controlled access to canal chalets and washrooms due to COVID-19. Fewer people will be allowed inside chalets at any one time, and door traffic will be one-way.

"People will have to adapt to this if they want to change inside," said Devine. "We won't allow anybody to leave their boots or shoes behind in the shelters. So people will have to plan to carry a bag with them."

Ottawa Morning once played an April Fools' joke on listeners about a plan for one-way skating traffic on the canal to cut down on collisions. Could COVID-19 make that joke a reality in 2020-2021?

"No," said Devine. Despite pandemic protocols, the canal will remain a "bi-directional skating experience," he promised.

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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