Every winter, from roughly January to late February or early March, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal is transformed into the world’s largest outdoor skating rink. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, becomes 7.8 km (4.8 miles) of ice, winding its way through the heart of Ottawa, stretching from downtown to Dows Lake.
As they days get chilly enough and the Canal freezes over, at least 30 cm deep, it becomes a winter playground for City residents and visitors from all over the world. In fact, the Rideau Canal Skateway sees an average of 19,000 visitors during its short season each year.
You don’t have to be able to skate to enjoy the Rideau Canal Skateway. You can rent sleighs or push people who can’t skate themselves.
• According to the NCC, the Skateway’s actual skating surface is 165,621 square metres, which is bigger than 105 National Hockey League rinks or more than 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks.
• On cold nights, workers drill holes in the Canal and pump water onto the surface. A special Zamboni then smooths the ice surface.
• Many Ottawans who live near the Canal actually use it to skate to school or work in the winter.
Along the way, you will take in sites like Carleton University, the Parliament Buildings and the Chateau Laurier. There are also stands set up along the Skateway, where you can purchase hot soup, hot chocolate, and Ottawa’s famous Beaver Tails pastry. There are even heated change huts where you can put on your skates or warm up.
Entrance to the Skateway is absolutely free, which makes it a very accessible and popular winter activity for families. Don’t worry if you don’t have your own skates. You can rent a pair at the Downtown and Fifth Avenue entrances.
The Rideau Canal was constructed between 1826 and 1832 as a preventive military measure to maintain the lifeline between Montreal and Kingston in the event of an attack by the United States via the St. Lawrence River.