|Outdoor Pursuits: Let's Skate Away|
Whether it's on a river, pond, or artificial ice, there is something so glorious about lacing on a pair of skates and just skating away. It's a time-honored tradition, and while most communities have an arena for skating, many have developed outdoor ice rinks to be enjoyed for pleasure skating, and of course, hockey. Most of these are artificial ice, so they are not as weather-dependent as natural ice, which means there are more skating days. Some communities develop festivals to celebrate winter, of which skating is such an important part. So, grab your skates and glide away. If you don't have skates, some rinks have rentals.
One of the largest outdoor rinks is at Springer Market Square, behind City Hall, in Kingston. The ice is usually ready in late November or early December, and the rink is open from 8 am to 10 pm every day. There are accessible washrooms, a warm up/change area, and an ice-cleaning machine to keep the surface smooth. The highlight for the winter is “Feb Fest” being held February 2 to 5, 2017. “We'll have all of the popular events from past years, like the “Imagination On Ice” show, “Hockey Day in Kingston”, featuring a hockey tournament for local teams, and the “Winter Park” at Confederation Park with ice sculptures and slides, so there is something for the whole family,” says Jan MacDonald, project manager from the organization that runs the festival, Downtown Kingston!
The City of Kingston also has several staffed and unstaffed rinks around town that offer a hockey rink and a skating area or track for pleasure skating. The staffed rinks have heated changing areas and washrooms. These rinks are open Monday to Friday from 4 to 9 pm and on the weekends from 12 to 9 pm. Other communities also offer outdoor flooded rinks or artificial rinks. These include Victoria Harbour in Belleville and 266 Main Street in Wellington, across from the library.
There are many “community rinks” that are managed by volunteers. If there isn't an outdoor rink near you and you'd like to help set one up, contact your municipal works department to see what policies are in place. You'll need a local water supply and a group of dedicated volunteers to keep the rink flooded and cleared. On a cold winter's day or night, you'll see kids, or adults, skating up and down the rink shovelling the snow off before they can get to their game of hockey. At almost all of the outdoor rinks there are “pick up” games going on, which is great for those who aren't part of an organized league but still want to play hockey. Of course you also need some co-operation from Mother Nature, where the temperatures have to be consistently cold to get the ice started and keep it smooth.
Mother Nature doesn't always co-operate to keep the Rideau Canal Skateway open, but thousands flock to Ottawa every winter to skate on the World's Longest Outdoor Rink. It runs 7.8 km from downtown Ottawa to Dow's Lake and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal operated by the National Capital Commission (NCC). Weather permitting, the skateway opens in early January and stays open until late February or early March. There is 24-hour access, but NCC staff are usually working on the ice during the night, and sections are opened and closed when maintenance is required. There are five rest areas with change rooms, washrooms, fire pits, and picnic tables. Kiosks are set up selling beverages and food, including the famous Beaver Tails®, a warm pastry topped with sugar and other flavourings. Another highlight on the Rideau is “Winterlude”, which runs February 3 to 20, 2017, featuring snow sculptures along the canal that have been carved by local and international artists.
Of course it is the skating that is the main attraction, and many people in Ottawa use the skateway as their mode of transportation to and from work as well as for recreation.
When it comes to outdoor recreation, ice skating is one of the most popular sports for Canadians, but if you are going to skate away on a local river or pond, you need to make sure the ice is strong enough. According to the Canadian Red Cross, natural ice should be at least 20 cm thick. Many factors influence the thickness including location, time of year, currents, fluctuations in water levels, and changing air temperatures. Clear, blue ice is strongest. Opaque ice, formed by wet snow freezing on the ice is half as safe. Grey ice indicates moving water, and is unsafe. Check and follow all community safety guidelines before skating away on that river.