Global Warming Threatens Closure of World’s Longest Skating Rink in Ottawa

Global warming has dealt a harsh blow to the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s longest skating rink, as it faces its first closure in 52 years. Mild temperatures in Ottawa have prevented the 7.8-kilometer stretch of frozen water from being opened, leaving locals and visitors without a key feature of the city’s fabric. The closure is a significant loss for the Winterlude festival, which draws in tourism dollars each year. Additionally, the lack of ice has forced organizers to cancel events like the ice dragon boat race, curling and hockey matches, and to switch to alternative activities like snowshoeing and skiing.

The Skateway has been a beloved part of Ottawa’s identity since it was first built in 1971. Government workers and students would skate to work or the pub, and skating parties were common on chilly Saturday nights. However, climate change has caused milder winters and shorter skating seasons in recent years. The canal skating season has averaged 50 days over the last five decades, though it’s been below that figure in six of the last eight years. Despite a record-breaking 1.49 million people using the Skateway in 2018-2019, the seasons have tended to range from 25 to 40 days more recently.

The National Capital Commission (NCC), the federal government agency that manages the attraction, hasn’t ruled out a brief opening this year. However, the commission needs at least 10 consecutive days of temperatures at -10C or colder to open safely, and the ice has to be 30 centimeters thick to cover a waterway that runs up to four meters deep in one section. This year’s Winterlude festival has had to get creative in the absence of the Skateway, with ice sculptures along Sparks Street and a modified Winterlude Triathlon.

The Skateway’s closure is a reminder of the devastating impacts of climate change. The NCC and other organizations are continuing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming. This includes implementing energy-efficient practices and transitioning to renewable energy sources. It is essential to take urgent action to prevent further damage to the planet and preserve unique attractions like the Rideau Canal Skateway for future generations to enjoy.

For the first time in 52 years, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Canada, faces closure due to global warming. The skateway stretches over 7.8 kilometers (5 miles) and is the world’s longest skating rink and a key part of the city’s fabric. It is also a significant draw for tourism during the Winterlude festival, but the unusually warm weather in Ottawa this winter has made it impossible for the skateway to open.

According to Environment Canada, Ottawa is experiencing its third-warmest winter ever recorded, with temperatures hovering just below freezing through most of December and January. As a result, cracks and occasional puddles have formed on the skateway, making it unsafe for the more than 20,000 skaters who typically use it daily.

The closure has left locals and visitors alike disappointed. The skateway is a unique feature of one of the world’s coldest capital cities, and it has been a part of Ottawa’s winter landscape since it was built in 1971. Students at Carleton University typically skate along the canal to pubs downtown, while government workers skate to the office, stopping at huts along the way that sell Beaver Tail pastries. Skating parties are a common occurrence on chilly Saturday nights.

“I’m devastated,” said Barbara Hyde, who would typically skate on the canal 10 to 20 times in a normal season. “I can’t believe I’m not skating. It’s ridiculous.”

The closure of the skateway has also affected the Winterlude festival, which has had to cancel some events and get creative with others. The ice dragon boat race, as well as the annual curling and hockey matches, have been cancelled. The Winterlude Triathlon, in which participants typically skate, cross-country ski, and run for a combined 19 kilometres, switched to snow shoes and skis this year. Ice sculptures along Sparks Street near Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office were carved early in the festival but didn’t last long in the heat.

While the closure of the skateway is disappointing, it is not entirely surprising. The trend of milder winters and shorter skate way openings has been building for years as global warming accelerates. The skating season has averaged 50 days over the last five decades, though it has been below that figure in six of the last eight years, according to data from the National Capital Commission, the federal government agency that manages the attraction.

Although a record 1.49 million people used the skateway in 2018-2019, when extended cold temperatures kept the canal open for 70 days, the seasons have tended to range from 25 days to 40 days more recently.

“That’s been the reality for several years – the season gets shorter and shorter,” said Hyde. “I’m not shocked that something like this is happening.”

“We remain hopeful that we’ll be able to welcome skaters to the skateway this year,” said spokesperson Valerie Dufour.

While the closure of the Rideau Canal Skateway is a disappointment for Ottawa residents and visitors alike, it serves as a reminder of the impact of global warming on our planet.

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