Rideau Canal Skateway to open ‘early next week’, NCC head says

Skaters make their way along the Rideau Canal Skateway shortly after dawn on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017 in Ottawa. The skateway will open for its 51st season "early next week," the NCC's chief executive said Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ottawa’s iconic Rideau Canal Skateway is scheduled to open sometime in the week of Jan. 25, the CEO of the National Capital Commission said Thursday, albeit with a few precautions in place amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Tobi Nussbaum said in his first update of the year to the NCC board of directors that the Crown corporation is “on-track” to open the skateway “early next week,” with an exact date yet to be determined.

The NCC confirmed last week that the Rideau Canal Skateway will open even under Ontario’s state of emergency and stay-home orders aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The NCC has said that only Ottawa residents who live nearby the canal should make use of the 7.8-kilometre ice rink for exercise purposes.

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The Crown corporation won’t be defining who counts as “local,” however, Nussbaum told reporters in a press conference after Thursday’s meeting.

“It’s awkward in the sense that local can be defined in many ways,” he said. “We’re really counting on people’s good judgment.”

What the NCC doesn’t want to see, Nussbaum said, is a crowd of 30,000 people out on the canal the first Saturday the ice is open to residents. The NCC’s policies have been crafted to align as closely as possible to public health advice, he said.

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He said the NCC’s goal has been to open as many of its assets up to public use this winter, providing expanded winter trails as an avenue for residents to safely exercise in the outdoors. But operating public amenities in a pandemic means acknowledging it’s not “business as usual,” so the NCC is attempting to strike a balance with its spaces.

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The skateway will lack any food offerings or other amenities in its 51st season, the NCC has said. Users will also be asked to wear masks while on the ice.

The Crown corporation also said it would be reopening sections of the Queen Elizabeth Driveway, which runs parallel to the canal in sections, for pedestrians and cyclists. The QED was closed off to motor vehicles as part of a pilot project this summer to give residents extra space to stretch their legs amid the pandemic.

While the NCC received concerns that large crowds would gather on the opened parkways this summer, he said the pilot project was a success, with residents responsibly using the active transportation spaces. He expects a similar result with the skateway this season.

The NCC will not have officers on the canal policing residents for mask compliance or to ensure they’re local to the area, he said, though “skate patrols” will likely be in place to help deal with any issues and signage will be posted to inform residents about new rules on the ice surface.

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