Have you been skating on the Rideau Canal yet this winter? Did you know that the Rideau Canal flows into the Ottawa River and is part of the Ottawa River watershed? Don’t let the cold weather keep you stuck inside – get out and enjoy our beautiful canal this winter by skating on the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink! The Rideau Canal Skateway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is now open and ready to go for its 49th skating season. You can get daily updates on the ice conditions by section here.
Keeping the canal in top condition doesn’t come without its own set of challenges, one of them being pollution due to maintenance of the skateway. The contractor hired to clear and maintain the canal during the winter months is required to use a specific type of blue plastic bristles for its snow sweeper equipment, as this is the industry standard and deemed to be the most effective. These bristles can fly off during the snow sweeping, accumulating along the edge of the canal or becoming trapped in the ice when it is flooded. Despite the National Capital Commission’s efforts to mitigate the presence of the blue bristles with skate patrollers collecting blue bristles when they see them, the amount of snow can make the situation worse, with more frequent sweeping required. In addition, the blue plastic bristles occasionally just break off when the weather is very cold.
At the end of the skating season, the water levels in the Rideau Canal are lowered and the National Capital Commission sends out crews to clean the entire length of the canal. Parks Canada also has a floating cleaner to collect any floating waste. However, the bristles that were trapped in the ice and that get released into the waterway as the ice melts are not always collected during this cleaning.
With over 900,000 visitors each year, the Rideau Canal Skateway is also faced with lots of human pressures. There are challenges surrounding the number of garbage cans, with skaters often littering along the canal or wind blowing garbage onto the ice. This creates a similar problem to the plastic bristles – with the litter becoming trapped in the ice when it gets flooded, and then entering the waterway once the ice begins to melt. It is important to remember that everything is interconnected in a watershed, and this continues to be true even when everything is frozen! When trash is left on our shorelines or in snowbanks in the winter, we mustn’t forget that the snow and ice will eventually melt away and that the garbage has a good chance of ending up in our river.
Due to the Rideau Canal’s prominence as the largest naturally frozen skating rink in the world, and its location in the capital of Canada, it can serve as an example to other communities on how to maintain similar skateways. It is therefore vital that we continue to work together to find and advocate for new solutions to these this environmental issues.
In order to combat this pollution and raise awareness, Ottawa Riverkeeper is organizing a winter clean-up along the Rideau Canal on Friday, February 15th to collect some of the bristles on the canal and other litter left behind by skaters. Bring your skates and come join us at 12:30pm at the Dows Lake Rest Station where our clean-up will begin. Show your love for your Ottawa River Watershed all year long! We look forward to seeing you there! Lastly, when you are out enjoying winter in your part of the Ottawa River Watershed, make sure to keep your local skating spot clean!