Will the Rideau Canal open for skating this year?

An image showing a polar bear and a pinguin skating between and around data about the Rideau Canal skateway
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Reading Time: 5 minutes

February 25 update: the canal closed at 10 pm today

February 24 update: canal opening at noon today

February 21 update: I skated today, conditions were poor. Canal closed at 10 pm

February 18 update: canal opens at noon between Pretoria and Bank. Conditions will be variable

February 16 update: I drove by the canal today. There were a dozen or so people on the ice with tools and some were spraying water but the ice looked pretty terrible. Now I couldn’t see it up close, so it was not easy to see what was snowdrift and what was ice, but it looked unskatable to me. Follow the Twitter ncc Skateway for updates.

The situation on Friday February 16

January 24 update: canal closed tonight

January 20 update: NCC Skateway Update: We’re putting the final touches on the ice, and the long-awaited green flag is going up on a 1.9 km section between the Pretoria Bridge and Bank Street at 9:00am tomorrow, Jan 21. 2024 (it was postponed till noon)

The Rideau Canal Skateway offically opened as a large 7.8 km long skating rink in the winter of 1970-1971. Every year since, many of us skated between Carleton University and downtown, probably enjoying some food and drinks along the way. Skating on the canal in Ottawa has been a given for generations.

One foot thick for the skateway

The Dutch won’t wait for 30 cm (1 foot) of ice like we do once the cold hits though and they often skate on a few inches of ice only because they usually have a few days only before the weather warms up again. I remember skating on the local canal in front of our house back in the Netherlands and I could actually see the ice slightly moving like a wave ahead of us. In Ottawa our cold weather lasts much longer, usually way into March and we can afford to wait for thicker ice. Never mind the safety of 21,000 people on the skateway.

Porous ice

Photo: NCC January 18, 2024 the hats are new merchandise

Last year was a bit of a wake up call in that we can’t take a frozen canal for granted anymore. It shouldn’t have been a surprise though because when the Arctic is getting warmer, we should eventually feel those warming effects too. The statistics are showing that the opening day of the skateway has gradually moved into the new year indicating it stays warmer longer at the end of the year, which means the days we can skate are becoming less. Bruce Devine, ice magician at the NCC, explained to me that although the ice had the required thickness last year, it was too porous to hold large numbers of skaters.

The Rideau Canal Skateway’s number of days when open for skating. As the blue line is a five year moving average, the line only starts five years after the first year it opened.

Opening days moving into the new year

As you can see in the infographic at the top of the page, the average opening day in the early years was on December 21, but it gradually moved up and in the last ten years, the average opening day has been three weeks later, on January 13. While the opening day moves up over time, the closing day has been more consistent within a range of closing dates. That is likely because the sun is getting warmer around mid March and the ice surface just gets to warm to skate on after around 11 am when the sun’s out.

A few years ago I was attempting to score 200 km of skating (the Dutch know why) for the season and I had about 40 km to go, so I set out for a skate early March. (edit: it was 32 km on February 13, 2018, the skateway closed on February 21). Fortunately I started early because by the time I got my 32 km in the ice was getting softer and more difficult to skate on.

Shorter seasons for the skateway

Another way of looking at the changing reality is that the first 25 years, between 1970 and 1995, the canal was open 1633 days. The last 25 years, between 1998 and 2022, the canal was open only 1218 days in total, 415 days or 25% less than the first 25 years.

Arctic temperatures by month since 1979. Gettin’ hot in da igloo

I do know that the canal sometimes closes for a few days between the official opening and closing dates, but I don’t have that information, nor do I have the information about when the skateway was fully open end to end. Not being open the entire length at times has become an issue too.

“My sense is, there’s still a lot of cold to come. You can’t get winter in Ottawa until it comes to Tuktoyaktuk … the North has to freeze up.”

Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips (Canadian Press)

Will the Rideau Canal Skateway be open this year?

The media already started to speculate about the opening of the skateway given the warmer winter so far, so I thought I pull some data together. There are several cold nights in the forecast that will really help setting the ice; we also have not had a thick snow cover to insulate the ice.

This is what you want. The Sunday at the bottom is January 21. Looking good!

I expect we might be skating before the end of January (Edit: Hope springs eternal, opening on January 21, I wasn’t far off!) if next week’s double digit negative temperatures continue for a bit longer. The latest the rink ever opened was February 2! Lately the skateway has been closing around the end of February. So there is hope for about a month of skating.

an infographic with several data about the rideau canal skateway
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What about that Skateway infographic?

As I have been waiting for snow and ice this winter, I thought I’ll make a Rideau Canal Skateway infographic for the fun of it (and to maintain my extremely limited drawing and design skills in Inkscape) now I have all those data in my head. It’s yours to share.

NB: We actually went for a bike ride on our city bikes last Christmas Day, the roads were clean and the weather was warmish. And then again on New Year’s Eve.

More fun posts from Hans on the Bike

  • NCC mulls replacement for Rideau Canal Skateway. “QED likely”: spokesperson
    Reading Time: 4 minutes This morning’s local newspaper reports on the NCC mulling the Queen Elizabeth Drive as an alternative for the Rideau Canal Skateway after several disappointing skate seasons. Even the mayor might be on board. Here is the entire article.
  • The Short Life of the Ottawa & New York Railway
    Reading Time: 12 minutes At some time in our history, Ottawa had a direct train connection to the Adirondecks and Tupper Lake in New York State via Cornwall. From there, you could travel further south to New York City. The original idea was to create a direct connection to NY, NY, but that didn’t materialise. (with video of the route)
  • The Food Map of Merivale Road in 2024
    Reading Time: 4 minutes This is the second year I am posting a Merivale Rd Food map. The 2024 Merivale Food map shows all food outlets on a stretch of Merivale Road, and the post describes who left and who started.
  • Will the Rideau Canal open for skating this year?
    Reading Time: 5 minutes The Rideau Canal in Ottawa has been a beloved skating destination since 1970. However, warmer winters are affecting its ice quality and duration. With fewer days open in recent years, speculation arises about this year’s opening. Upcoming cold nights could lead the canal to open end of January and when it does, don’t wait to go out.
  • My Free Little Library in Ottawa
    Reading Time: 6 minutes Last year I built my own little library. I was nervous it would be vandalised but now, a year later, I can confirm it is a big success. Ottawa’s Transportation Committee will soon discuss new (modest) rules for curb site little libraries.
  • Solved – How the world’s great cities are fixing the climate crisis
    Reading Time: 6 minutes I recently finished David Miller’s book ‘Solved’, a book in which David shares numerous examples of practical solutions that can be taken at a city level.

Sources: NCC, Statistica, EEA Europe

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