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Skaters hit the ice on the Rideau Canal Skateway for first time since 2022


The Rideau Canal Skateway opened on Sunday for the first time in nearly two years. 

The skateway didn't open at all last year — a first in its then 53-year history — so when the National Capital Commission (NCC) announced on Saturday that the first bit of ice would be ready for skating Sunday morning, skaters were excited.

The last day there had been skating on the Rideau Canal was March 5, 2022, 687 days ago.

Despite the excitement, there was some confusion Sunday morning for eager skaters who showed up for their first skate.

The NCC said at 8:35 a.m. Sunday that the Rideau Canal Skateway needed a bit more time to fully freeze after overnight flooding and the planned opening at 9 a.m. Sunday would be pushed back to 12:30 p.m.

Initially, the NCC said a 1.9-kilometre stretch between the Pretoria Bridge and Bank Street would be open, but that was shortened to an approximately 1.15-km stretch from Fifth Avenue to Bank Street early Sunday.

"The official opening of the Rideau Canal Skateway is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today, to allow the surface to fully freeze after overnight flooding," the NCC said in a statement to CTV News.

"The section between Fifth Avenue and Bank Street is ready to open to skaters but we continue to work relentlessly to open more sections as soon as ice conditions are safe. We appreciate everyone’s patience and collaboration and are thrilled to welcome skaters and visitors to the Skateway."

Despite the announcement from the NCC about the delay, many people chose to ignore the red flags and hop onto the canal Sunday morning.

Eager skaters hop the gate at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Rideau Canal Skateway Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. The National Capital Commission announced a 3.5-hour delay to the official opening of the Skateway Sunday. (Jackie Perez/CTV News Ottawa)

At 12:30, the green flags officially went up between Fifth Avenue and Bank Street. Just before 2 p.m., the NCC officially said the skateway was open from the Pretoria Bridge to Bank Street, as initially promised. Some skaters bypassed a fence put up near the Patterson Creek entrance to continue skating.

Crews could be seen working on other parts of the 7.8 km skating rink to get it ready for skaters. 

"Our teams are still putting the final touches out on the ice. Be mindful of crews working on the Skateway," the NCC said on social media.

NCC crews remove a fence on the Rideau Canal Skateway south of the Pretoria Bridge. Jan. 21, 2024. Several skaters bypassed the fence Sunday morning after the NCC said it was delaying the official opening of the Skateway until the afternoon and opening a shorter stretch than initially promised. (Josh Pringle/CTV News Ottawa)

BeaverTails will be open along the skateway, but skate rentals will not be available for now. The NCC is asking skaters to be mindful of teams still working on the ice.

The canal needs at least 30 centimetres of ice for the skateway to open, which usually requires 10 to 14 days of weather between -10 C and -20 C.

A parent hoists their child's jogging stroller over a gate leading to the Rideau Canal Skateway, on the morning of its opening day in Ottawa, on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024. Skaters took to the ice, clambering over locked gates, after the National Capital Commission issued an online advisory shortly before the previously announced opening time of 9 a.m. that there would be a delay until 12:30 p.m., stating that the ice needed more time to freeze. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A cold spell in the capital has kept temperatures under -10 C since Monday. Environment Canada says Ottawa is looking at below-normal temperatures this weekend, with highs between -9 C and -13 C and lows between -10 C and -18 C.

Temperatures are expected to be warmer than usual this week, though they should remain mostly below freezing.

The NCC posts updates on ice conditions and access points to the canal on its website. When open, the Skateway is free and accessible seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Above-seasonal temperatures in November and December this winter had many worried the canal would see a repeat of last year, when the canal did not open once for skating for the first time in its 54-year history.

The Rideau Canal Skateway has been a popular tourist attraction since it first opened in 1971 and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The latest opening for the Rideau Canal Skateway (not including 2023) was Feb. 2, 2002. The shortest season on the skateway was 16 days back in 2016.

Weather permitting, the 7.8-kilometre skateway is billed as the largest skating rink in the world.

Eager skaters were out on the Rideau Canal Skateway Sunday morning, Jan. 21, 2024. The National Capital Commission announced a delayed opening time 25 minutes before 9 a.m., which was the opening time that was announced on Saturday. (Courtesy: Mike McMullen)

In the canal's first 26 seasons, the median opening date was Dec. 27. In the 26 years since the 1995-96 season, the median opening date has been Jan. 10. Across all 52 skating seasons, the median opening date is Jan. 1.

The average skating season is 50 days, but the record is 95 days (1971–1972 season).

It has become increasingly rare to have the canal open for skating ahead of Jan. 1.

A July 2021 risk assessment on the effects of climate change on the Rideau Canal Skateway warned that in the next decades, the skating season would be less than 40 days approximately 50 per cent of the time. The report said the opening of the skateway in December is unlikely to occur in the future.

The NCC has been working with researchers at Carleton University to collect data on the skateway and test options for ice management. Those options included a so-called slush cannon, which shoots freezing cold slush onto the surface of the canal to help build up a thicker layer of ice.

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle and Jackie Perez and The Canadian Press. Top Stories

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