‘Race against time’: Rideau Canal skating rink faces 1st year without opening

Click to play video: 'Winter road safety tips'
Winter road safety tips
WATCH: With winter weather hitting the GTA, it’s the perfect time to make sure your vehicle is prepared for the conditions according to Nadia Matos from CAA South Central Ontario – Dec 15, 2022

The opening of Canada’s iconic Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa has been pushed back continually this year as the nation’s capital and much of Ontario are experiencing an unusually “mild” winter season.

The famous canal-turned-ice-rink has opened to the public every year since 1971. However, it remains unclear if the rink will be able to open at all this year given the weather conditions.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) that manages the canal’s operations said last week that it is continuing preparation work for the popular skating rink but the current weather conditions are preventing it from opening up to skaters.

“We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to welcome skaters to the Skateway this year,” a spokesperson for NCC told Global News in an email Monday.

Story continues below advertisement

The Rideau Canal is a national landmark that is transformed into the world’s largest skating rink each winter, attracting thousands of residents and tourists.

Spanning more than 7.8 kilometers, the canal is a UNESCO-recognized World Heritage Site. In the 2018-2019 season, the rink set a record of welcoming nearly 1.5 million people.

Each year, the timing of when the Skateway opens depends on the weather but it typically runs from January to early March.

This year, NCC says it has already surpassed the latest-ever opening date of Feb. 2 for the Rideau Canal Skateway which was recorded in 2002.

The ice rink is a major part of the annual Winterlude festival that kicked off on Feb. 3 and will run up until Feb. 20.

Story continues below advertisement

Why is the Skateway opening delayed?

It has been an “unusual” winter season across Canada, with “ups and downs” in temperatures, said Global News’s chief meteorologist Anthony Farnell.

Ottawa, in particular, has seen a lot of mild air and there hasn’t been that “consistent cold” the city is used to for this time of the year, he said.

“It’s going down as one of those unusual winters which are becoming more common I think with climate change and with this extreme variability that we see not just from month to month, but from season to season.”

According to the NCC, the Rideau Canal skating rink can only open to the public once the surface is at least 30 centimetres thick with good quality ice.

Story continues below advertisement

“To get there, our ice experts need about 10 to 14 consecutive days of temperatures between -10°C and -20°C,” the NCC says on its website.

Seven-day weather forecast for the city of Ottawa, Ont. Global News graphic

The weather this winter season has not cooperated.

“Unfortunately, so far this winter, we just haven’t had those conditions,” said Geoff Coulson, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada.

Coulson said Ottawa and many places across eastern and southern Ontario have had “mild conditions” through the month of December and January.

Three days showing below normal temperatures this February in Ottawa. Global News graphic

The city saw a really cold start to February with temperatures dropping to -33 C on Feb. 4, but it has been mild since then, experts say.

Story continues below advertisement

“While February did have some seasonal temperatures or even somewhat colder than seasonal temperatures to start off the month, we’ve gotten back into this milder air mass over the last few days,” Coulson told Global News.

The mild winter has in fact made it difficult to sustain outdoor skating rinks in other parts of the country as well, said Farnell.

Click to play video: 'Ice activities on frozen lakes in the Okanagan not recommended during warmer weather'
Ice activities on frozen lakes in the Okanagan not recommended during warmer weather

Will the Rideau Canal rink open this year?

With the opening of the Rideau Canal Skateway already delayed and mild weather conditions expected to continue for the next week to 10 days, the prospect of the skating trail opening at all “doesn’t look good,” said Farnell.

Story continues below advertisement

“At least for the next week to maybe nine or 10 days, temperatures are actually going to be above freezing most afternoons and definitely not in that -10 to -20 range,” he said.

Coulson agreed, saying it’s not looking promising.

“Certainly it’s not looking favourable at this point based on the forecasts that we’re seeing,” he said. “It may be difficult for them to get the number of days of cold enough weather to do it. “

People skate on the Rideau Canal Skateway on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Canada’s largest skating rink has officially broken its record for the latest opening date – but it hasn’t opened yet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

In the last week of February, Ottawa’s temperatures are expected to dip and return to more seasonal values, which could help with freezing up the canal, but it’s a “race against time” as March approaches, said Coulson.

Story continues below advertisement

Farnell also warned that “the window is so small” as the month of March often brings in more sunny, warmer weather.

“Starting in March, the sun angle is higher, the averages are going up and generally that’s the time of year where they close the Rideau Canal,” he said.

“So it is going to be a very short season, if at all.”

The average skating season for the Rideau Canal Skateway is 50 days, but as the years have progressed the seasons have gotten shorter, according to the NCC. 

The longest season in 1971-72 ran for 95 days.

Sponsored content