Sad Fact: Ottawa’s Skateway is Dangerously Dark at Night

IMG_3072So I made a trip last night over to the “largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world” – The Rideau Canal Skateway, of course – for what I thought would be a ‘classic’ skating experience.

A night skate on the canal seemed like a quintessential Ottawa Winter experience.

Overall I ended up having an invigorating skate, but I could not believe my eyes.

The skating surface was extremely badly lit – Like 19th century, pre-electricity terrible. You could barely see the ice in front of you for a majority of the skate. But a lot more on that in a minute.

At the beginning of my journey to the Skateway, there was an older man waiting at the bus stop with me.

I noticed he had a couple of unique buttons on his backpack that I had never seen before.

One of them said “I (illustration of) BRAIN Science” and the other was similar and said “I (illustration of) BRAIN Philosophy.”

The buttons were a great conversation starter. I remarked to the man that I liked them and thought they were unique.  I also mentioned how incredible it is that there are so many variations out there on the famous “I Heart NY” logo.

I asked him where he got them from, and he said something like his friends have a button making machine and he was apart of a not for profit. He didn’t go into any more detail than that.

I told him I was going for a skate on the canal, and he said he was going to a class at Carleton University. How brainy of him! But seriously though, it reminded me that I should really take a class again one of these days.

Back to the Skateway. So I arrived at Dow’s Lake (a major entrance to the Skateway) and before my skate began I used the “Comfort Station” – aka port-a-potty. While it was super convenient to have it right next to the rink, I was upset it didn’t have any hand sanitizer! It wasn’t that it was out of hand sanitizer, it didn’t even have one. Fortunately I had some with me, but that’s a pretty big pet peeve of mine. It got my skating adventure off a bit on the wrong foot…

While I’m at it, am I the only one who can’t believe places like the Apple store do not have sanitizer dispensers?! A billion hands handling their expensive devices on display, and no sanitizer for you on the way out? Anyways, I digress.

So there I was at the Dow’s Lake end of the canal – just like I was a couple weeks ago during the day – but it was a much different feel at night.

It almost felt like Halloween night or something, which was fine at first. Some people had headlamps, or colored lights on their clothes and I soon learned why.

It was pretty much pitch black on the lake. I figured it would get a lot brighter once I got past the lake. But disappointingly it barely did. I was very surprised that such an well-known attraction – an attraction full of such Ottawa pride – would be so pathetically illuminated.

At one point I even tried using the light on my iPhone. I felt smart because it not only added a little light in front of me, it also let others see me too. But I soon realized that if I fell, I wouldn’t want to damage my phone.

There were about a handful of soft/chipped spots in the ice where it caused me to trip a bit. Fortunately I’m a good skater and didn’t fall, but I’m sure others have. I decided to bring my bike helmet with me, and I ended up wearing it over my toque. I’m glad I wore it, because I probably would have felt even more upset/less safe about the whole experience.

The section closest to the Parliament Buildings was closed off last time I went due to bad ice conditions, but this time it was all open. It was gratifying to go to the complete opposite end, which is also another starting point.

Granted, the lighting was quite a bit better in that last section closest to Parliament, but the brightness you find there should be the lowest light you should be able to find on the whole of the rink. Meaning, the lighting there is actually pretty bad too, but almost acceptable. There’s a good view of Parliament and the Chateau Laurier hotel from that point, and there’s a Beaver Tail stand conveniently close too.

All in all, I still enjoyed myself and got a great skate in. I just wish Ottawa invested some money into proper lighting. It’s really mind blowing that such a world-renowned attraction is so poorly lit. Any ski-hill around the world would put the Skateway to shame. Even the walking path behind my friend’s house in the suburbs is lit about a million times better.

I had this idea that it would be so romantic doing a night skate (even alone) but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. There’s nothing romantic about skating in near pitch black conditions with the possibility of your date falling and seriously hurting themselves.

I don’t recommend the Skateway at night unless you are a really good skater. And I would recommend you wear a helmet too.

As I made my way back home, I walked through Confederation Park and there was some signage for Winterlude (running February 2 to 19) and I saw a few ice sculptures on the grounds. I’m glad that I now know where it takes place. I’ll have to check it out in February and report back.


Large size of picture above. I liked this view of the full moon and BeaverTails stand.