Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Glide the Length of the World's Longest Skating Rink (Ottawa, Ontario)

The ultimate North American winter bucket list

    Photo: Courtesy of Ottawa Tourism

Growing up in Canada’s capital city, I was one of those kids who was more inclined to eye-rolling than to hometown pride. Ottawa was staid, tidy, a bureaucrat’s city. Our hockey team stank, and the best bands always skipped over us on their way from Montreal to Toronto. But there was one city fixture that I loved without embarrassment: the Rideau Canal skateway. Each winter, the canal that cut through the city—a military relic, built on 19th century fears of an American invasion—was transformed into a five-mile skating rink, the world’s longest. The frozen canal was more than a tourism gimmick: My grade school held gym classes on its plowed surface, and when I moved on to junior high I could lace up my skates and glide to school along its length; my dad would skate off in the other direction, headed to his downtown office building.

These days, the canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its season isn’t as reliable or as long as it once was, but it tends to be open from early January through early March, weather permitting. It hits its peak during the first three weeks of February, when Ottawa’s Winterlude festival takes place on and around it. There are skate rental shacks, hot chocolate stands, and other services available right on the ice.

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