Picture of the Week: The Canal Drained

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The Rideau Canal, Ottawa, November 2011

In Ottawa, a simple glance at the Rideau Canal is enough to realize the seasons are changing

From mid-May to mid-October, the locks are open and dozens of boats sail on the historic canal. The scenery is picture-perfect with lots of green trees along the water, and the area is an ode to outdoor living.

Then the canal is drained by opening the locks by the Château Laurier, in order to prepare for the winter and to eventually create the longest skating rink in the world. It takes a few weeks to install the infrastructure—ramps, shelters, changing facilities and all—and meanwhile, the canal looks a bit depressing.

Eventually, the water will be raised to skating level and it will hopefully freeze. It takes about two weeks of cold weather (we’re talking -15°C to -20°C here!) to get a safe ice surface—it must be at least 10 to 12 inches thick. A flag system is used, like at the beach: green flag, you can go; red flag, conditions are unsafe. Hopefully this winter I’ll finally get the chance to skate!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Interesting, I didn’t know they do that that way. I remember reading in your blog something about skating in the canal before, but I never knew that you have to drain it first and do all those preparations.

    I remember my parents telling me that they skate on the Vltava River in Prague as well during winter, although since that is a river, I don’t think draining is involved.

    • Every year, I find they drain it early, especially considering you really can’t skate until late January or February. But I guess it takes a while to set everything up.

  2. How beautiful and kinda cool to know the process. We on the west coast don’t have that type of thing unless we venture indoors. Thus, I have no feeling inside to want to try skating since roughly 25 years.

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