For those privileged few living on the Earth that’s not experiencing drastic climate change — I’m led to understand that’s roughly 1% of you — this won’t be particularly interesting. For the rest of us, though, as of today the skating conditions on Ottawa’s Rideau Canal are officially either “good” or “very good” (and, as might be expected from Canada’s capital city, “very good” is as the absolute best score).
Next year, who knows. It’s -7C (19F) right now and it made it down to -18C (0F) last night and that’s certainly cold enough for at least “good” ice conditions but that’s really not that cold so if you’ve never skated on an inner-city canal and you think you’d like to before Baffin Island becomes a tropical paradise then this would make an excellent winter to spend a weekend skating through Ottawa.
Skating on the Rideau Canal is an Ottawa tradition and has been for over forty years. So now it’s well-entrenched and the Rideau is a full day’s entertainment. There’s music and hot food and hot chocolate right on the ice, skate rental and sharpening services, first-aid stations and public toilets. It’s a giant, friendly community party and while the locals have a clear advantage they will absolutely not laugh at your amateur efforts to stand up on skates. Indeed, with the anonymity of a strange city, a good reason to wear a balaclava and 7 km (about 5 miles) of ice open all night and all day the Rideau’s skating season — typically from about mid-January to the beginning of March — is probably the ideal occasion to learn to skate.
Ottawa’s a little hard to access compared to, say, Toronto or Montreal. If you’re not coming from one of these cities then you’re probably going to have to get there first and either drive, fly or take the bus or train from there. It’s winter so I recommend the train and the corresponding wonderland view, but Ottawa itself is mighty easy on the eyes, too, and if you’re just making it a weekend to skate then maybe fly. The nicest bits of the city are, happily, within walking proximity of one another and if you make to Parliament Hill you’ve found the practical centre of Ottawa as a tourist destination. From there you can walk the older and more charming parts of Ottawa before returning to the ice from which you get another and equally charming perspective. Ottawa, being a capital city, has plenty of museums and most guides will tell you to see them and by all means do if you, say, break your leg skating (you’re not going to break your leg) but between you and me museums are not Ottawa’s trump card.
Having said that, the Rideau is easily the most accessible and most romantic and most frozen inner city canal on which you can make a weekend this winter and if you’re up for it you should make the most of it while you can.