Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Canada's Skateways

I love winter - it's a big reason I left Houston and moved home to Maine.

But the Canadians really know how to enjoy the season. In Ottawa, for instance, the frozen Rideau Canal becomes a 5-mile long skating rink every winter. The "Rideau Canal Skateway," pictured above, extends from the campus of Carleton University south of the city center to downtown's Confederation Park, just three blocks away from Canada's Parliament Hill.

This means that Ottawans who live in the city's inner neighborhoods and work downtown are actually able to commute by ice-skates in the winter. And many of them do.

I was going to make this post exclusively about the Rideau Canal, until I found that the city of Winnipeg has copied the idea and gone one better, by opening "the world's longest skating rink" (1 mile longer than Ottawa's) on that city's frozen Assiniboine River. The Assiniboine River Trail, mapped below, is more of a skating path than a skating rink, but the idea of skating to cover long distances is the same.

Winnipeg's skating path extends from Assiniboine Park, not far from the airport in the city's western suburbs, to The Forks, where the Assiniboine meets the Red River. Along the way it passes through several city neighborhoods, and skirts past the southern boundaries of the Manitoban capitol grounds and the downtown business district.

Here's a time-lapse trip down the Assiniboine skate path from YouTube:

Writing this post makes me look forward to winter even more. So when is this good idea from the Canadians going to catch on south of the border?


Johanna said...

You fail to mention the best part - all those little huts on the Rideau Canal? Not *just* skate rental and change rooms, most of them serve snacks. Nothing like hot fried dough covered in maple sugar to make skating even *better*.

Alas, the canal season is not always reliable. It requires a cold cold winter. Here (west of Toronto) it wouldn't even be feasible - the best we can do is turn our municipal fountains (which are shallow) into outdoor rinks. And we do!

Turboglacier said...

"So when is this good idea from the Canadians going to catch on south of the border?"

Probably right after we get universal health care and let gay people marry...

Portland made a small attempt at all-natural outdoor public skating a few winters ago, flooding the recessed plaza at the corner of High and Congress. It was a great idea. Until some effers went and poured gallons of toxic antifreeze into it one night. The Canadians just have better civic spirit that allows them these sorts of nice things in life.

Ari said...

Minneapolis has lots of public skating rinks on every lake around (as well as some flooded fields). Two dozen in the city, with more in Saint Paul and suburbs. Saint Paul pours an outdoor rink downtown every winter, too. Of course, Boston has the Frog Pond and Cambridge now has ice in Kendall Square. New York has skating in Central Park and some business headquarters in Midtown.

Of course, when the Dutch Canals freeze over … they get very excited. Of course, it only happens once every ten years or so.

Last winter, the weather conspired to freeze over Minnehaha Creek, which is only canoe-able at high water, in to a skating rink for some number of miles (a rare occurrence; it is usually too low and/or snowcovered) for some skating. Several miles of lakes and canals in Minneapolis freeze solid every winter, but unless they are bare ice you can traverse them by skiing, not skating.

(That good idea for Canadians will catch on down south when it gets colder. My dad remembers the Charles in Boston freezing from Watertown to Downtown back in the '70s and people skating to work. But that only happens a couple times a century. With climate change, who knows when it will next.)