In defence of Ottawa’s awesome Rideau Canal, and Canal Skateway

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So Tyler Dawson doesn’t think much of the Rideau Canal, nor the Rideau Canal Skateway.

The “Deputy Editorial Pages Editor” of the Ottawa Citizen devoted several hundred words to dumping all over the UNESCO World Heritage Site earlier this week. “The Rideau Canal is overrated. There, I said it” screams the headline. He even created a video — a rather boring video, methinks — standing beside the empty surface during a warm spell this week, to accompany his diatribe.

Gawd man, at least shoot some frickin’ B-roll. Please.

Dawson’s column breathlessly explains that he doesn’t use the canal, summer or winter apparently, so it can’t be all that important. He decries the huge crowds of people who actually do use it — especially near downtown Ottawa — and complains that the world’s largest skating rink often has bumps and cracks “every two feet”.

Umm, Mr. Dawson, those huge crowds you’re talking about would seem to refute a big part of your argument. If tens of thousands of people use it, how the heck can it be “overrated”? And if many, many of those folks are not from Ottawa, the province of Ontario, or even this country, how can it not be a major tourist attraction?

You are certainly entitled to your opinion, Mr. Dawson (it really is a wonderful country, this Canada). But let me take strident exception.

A video I shot in 2013 over two consecutive Saturday mornings on the Rideau Canal Skateway. It
was so cold the first Saturday morning, my iPhone froze, so I had to continue the next week.

I visit the canal a lot, summer and winter. While on the Canal Skateway I have met and chatted with scores of folks from across Canada, the U.S., and around the world. Not one has echoed any of your complaints. They’ve been smiling, enjoying themselves, marvelling at the effort that goes into such an attraction.

Skating on it is something they expected to remember, forever.


But, using Mr. Dawson’s logic, the NAC Orchestra must also be overrated and irrelevant, because I personally don’t attend its concerts. I don’t want to be jammed into a seat in a crowded theatre with thousands of others … ruins the sound for me. And parking. Ugghh. Or some such bafflegab.

Same for the Ottawa Fury soccer club. I’m not a fan of soccer, so who cares … we should probably get rid of that too. Who cares about the thousands of people who DO attend games?

I love fishing, but wouldn’t waste my time on carp. Garbage fish. They must also be overrated, unimportant, not worth anyone else’s time, either.

To illustrate his point about the Canal Skateway not being open often enough to skaters, he notes that in our unseasonable winter of 2016, it was open just 18 days. Well, in 2015 the Canal Skateway was open for 59 days. Perhaps that makes it less overrated.

He does, grudgingly, admit “the average is a little bit higher, 51.”

“Little bit”??? I’m no math genius, but 51 days is a LOT more than 18 days.

Tough crowd.

Most Ottawans know at least a bit about the history of the canal. Awesome stuff. But what matters here is it’s value to our city and our lifestyle in 2017. Mr. Dawson admits it’s nice to run along the canal, on the recreational use pathways we are so fortunate to have in Ottawa and Gatineau. Guess he must be a jogger.


The canal is the very reason we have kilometres and kilometres of parkland and rec trails from the rural south end right through our downtown core. There are boat cruises, performances in the parks, picnic areas, fishing, canoeing and kayaking spots, etc. etc. along its length. He would like to see more activities, and on that point, Mr. Dawson, I heartily agree.

I don’t want it to become a strip mall, but there are definitely opportunities for volleyball and sports courts, more restaurants, small performing arts stages, art installations, etc. etc. etc. On the other hand, Mooney’s Bay is part of the Canal system, and it can get just a bit busy … HOPE Beach Volleyball, the dragonboat festival, a hot summer afternoon, etc.

The Canal also feeds Dow’s Lake. There, visitors can grab window-side tables in restaurants at the pavilion, or gather outside on a patio when the weather is nice to enjoy dinner or drinks with family and friends.

Many weekends the Dow’s Lake Pavilion parking lot is jammed to overflowing. But hey, guess those folks are just getting ripped off enjoying the “overrated” attractions.

Anglers can catch everything from panfish to bass to quite large muskie in Dow’s Lake and along the canal. Imagine, catching a tiger muskie almost in sight of Little Italy or Parliament Hill. Where else could that happen?

How many teens, or adults, have shared a first kiss while sharing a rented paddleboat or canoe from the pavilion? How many marriages have been proposed along the shores? How many padlocks, professing undying love, are attached to the Corkstown bridge?

And hey, Mr. Dawson, if you don’t like BeaverTails that’s all good. They’re probably not really healthy. But who doesn’t like hot chocolate? Sure it’s overpriced, but have you been to a Senators game lately, or the theatre, or even the NACO and bought beer or a glass of wine? Yikes! It’s all part of the experience.

Don’t like hot chocolate, either? Pack a steaming mug of your favourite tea, then take your own munchies with you.


Mr. Dawson, if you have never glided along the Canal Skateway on a cold, February evening under the stars, with only a few other skaters out for company, I pity you. It is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. Sure, the ice near the downtown Laurier and Mackenzie King bridges gets pretty hacked up, but the rest of this majestic, 7.8-kilometre rink can be almost as smooth as your local arena.

Without the restrictive boards, concrete seating area, painted surface, garish lighting and roof.

I’ve literally skated several kilometres with nary a bump. It’s not like that every day, but it’s outside, for heaven’s sake. Caring for such a massive surface exposed to Mother Nature is no simple undertaking. Gotta give the National Capital Commission folks a lot of credit, they do a masterful job, sometimes in very difficult conditions.

Keeping an eye for bumps and cracks is, I’ll say it again, part of the experience. Maybe this bothers you because we are so conditioned these days to expect everything to be perfect we can’t enjoy something unless it meets those unrealistic standards.

It would be no different on a lake or river outside your cottage. And the Canal Skateway is no less cathartic.

Mr. Dawson, instead of calling it “overrated” we should thank our lucky stars to have the Rideau Canal, and the Rideau Canal Skateway, in our town.

I do.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Are the Rideau Canal and the Canal Skateway something special, or do you agree they’re overrated? Leave a comment and we’ll discuss…

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