The Rideau Canal skateway opened at 10am on Sunday morning, with the NCC announcing it just an hour before. The rest area at Fifth Avenue/Holmwood is picture-perfect, with a fresh layer of snow on the evergreens. The ice is so glassy smooth that you can see the canal amenities reflected in it!
Of course, no NCC event would be complete without a hokey media event. Two of the official Winterlude mascots, the Ice Hogs, were out on the ice behind the speaker at the podium (as captured hugging adorably in a photo by CBC reporter Alistair Steele via Twitter). One of them climbed the stairs to raise the green flag, making the opening official. (Unfortunately my photo is from a bad angle to see the flag, again, but Steele got a good photo of that, too)
If it weren't for Twitter, I don't think anybody would get a chance to see this announcement, because in the Monday paper, photos of actual people skating does a much better job of conveying the message "the canal is open for public skating" than a photo of an NCC spokesperson saying as much. Case in point, there's no trace of the media event in the Ottawa Citizen's photoset. While waiting for the press spiel to start, this cameraman took the opportunity to take such footage.
The brunt of the hard work--duly acknowledged in the announcement--goes to the crews that work day and night preparing the ice for public use. Here's one crew near Immaculata High School flooding the ice last weekend:
The great thing about the canal is that it's open 24/7 (not including the chalets, bathrooms and vendors, which close at 10pm if I recall correctly). Obviously you can't skate on it when it's being flooded in the middle of the night, but even then they don't often flood the whole canal at once.
So conversely, the great thing about opening day is that nobody's been on it yet. With the weather having been at 20 below since Friday night, lots of neat things happen to the ice, like these crystals. I can't tell if these are snowflakes that fell and melted into the ice, or if they are crystals that grew from the moisture in the air freezing. Either way, they were pretty cool. They were about a centimetre across.
At -20C at ground level, I can only imagine how cold it must have been in this Sun balloon, despite the hot air:
One of the big new things this year is the set of new chalets, whose price tag has caused a bit of a hullabaloo. The previous chalets (which you can see in some of my previous posts with the canal label) were built over 40 years ago, dating from the early years of the canal being officially open as a skateway. These new ones, as with the old ones, need to be lifted from a crane and placed on trailers for transport to and from the canal twice a year. These have been designed to last at least 35 years with one million people passing through their doors each year. Only a few hours after the NCC sent out the word that the canal would be open today, the new chalets were already getting good use:
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they need to leave visitors to Ottawa with a good impression. Many people look to stylish facilities in other cities as examples of how dull Ottawa is, and these new chalets are a nice push back at that notion. Because they are fully accessible, they can be enjoyed by everyone, with no fee to use them. Where the old chalets had a narrow band of windows at the top, these have a whole face of windows to watch what's going on out there when you're inside warming up.
There are seven chalets in total, four change chalets and three for washrooms (only the one is in the section of canal currently open). They were designed by the firm of Anthony Leaning, who came along for the opening ceremonies and posed for a photo.
The canal is open for a 2.2 km stretch from Pretoria Bridge down to the Bank Street bridge (not including Patterson Creek), and other sections should open up in the coming days as they are made thick enough and readied for use, with the full 7.8 kilometres likely to be open by Winterlude. As in previous years, the National Portrait Gallery has installed some pieces under the Bank Street bridge, but new this year is that they're up at the start of the skating season. All ten are themed on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
Skating on the Rideau Canal is a 42-year-old tradition that is the highlight of winter in Ottawa. So lace up your skates, bundle up, get out there, and have fun!