Be careful what you wish for, especially when it comes to winter.
Winter has shown some reluctance to commit to consistent ice-making temperatures so far this season, but true January weather in recent days made it possible to open part of the Rideau Canal Skateway on Saturday morning … just in time for icy east winds to howl, along with enough snow to prompt a snowfall warning from Environment Canada.
However, only 2.3 kilometres of the skateway’s 7.8-kilometre total length was open, a stretch running from Pretoria Avenue to Bank Street and including Patterson Creek. For some skaters, though, there was a glitch even to this as stairs leading to the ice surface were closed on both the Colonel By and the Queen Elizabeth Driveway sides.
Among those on skate blades Saturday were nine-year-old twins Luke and Alex Vulanovic, who have lived for the past four years in Jordan, where the only ice surface was an indoor rink in a shopping mall. They have been taking ski lessons since their family returned to Canada and working on skating skills at school.
“My favourite season is winter,” Luke said.
“This is the last thing we had to do to feel Canadian again,” said their father, Dan.
Added their mother, Karen Mollica: “I have a friend who says there’s no such thing as too cold … just under-dressed.”
NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna officially open skating on a stretch of the Rideau Canal on Saturday. Ashley Fraser / Postmedia
Stephen Fancott lives in Yellowknife in the summer, but spends winters in Ottawa and has been waiting for the past few weeks to lace up his skates.
“They’re doing the best they can,” the retired architect said. “But guess what? The climate is changing. Winterlude will have to move to North Bay or something.”
Fancott said it didn’t bother him that the entire length of the canal wasn’t open. “This the 50th year for the canal. It’s fantastic. It’s really neat seeing people skating outside.”
Only a few hundred metres away, the Ottawa edition of the Great Canadian Kilt Skate drew dozens of hardy fans of all things Scottish to Lansdowne Park’s skating court.
“This isn’t a very grown-up thing to do,” kilt-clad bagpiper John Hogg said, “but never grow up too much.”
This year’s kilt skate was far from the coldest, said fellow piper Dave Johnston, who insisted that the kilt was a very warm garment. But, while Johnston didn’t feel the cold, bagpipes were no match for sub-zero weather: The reed doesn’t perform will in freezing temperatures, he said.
John Hogg, left, and Dave Johnston dress the part for the Ottawa edition of the Great Canadian Kilt Skate. Joanne / Postmedia
As for opening up larger portions of the skateway, the National Capital Commission is taking a wait-and-see approach.
NCC spokesman Cédric Pelletier said crews would be out Saturday and into Sunday to maintain a clear corridor for skaters on the portion that was open. As for how long it would take to flood and open the rest of the ice surface, that would be up to Mother Nature.
“It’s a day-to-day decision,” Pelletier said.
The NCC asks that the public not venture onto closed sections of the skateway. Access stairs on Hawthorne Avenue on the Colonel By side and the Bank Street stairs on both sides have been closed.