OOE’s skateway thrives

Six of the 36 skateway access points are in Old Ottawa East. Map:NCC

Almost a million people enjoyed Old Ottawa East this winter, even if they didn’t know it. They were skaters on the world’s largest and most famous rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway, a third of which runs along OOE.

When they checked out the canal webcam, providing an around-the-clock viewing of the skateway and its users, they were looking at OOE’s Echo Drive residences, often pictured in tourist shots highlighting the capital’s well-known winter attraction.

Old Ottawa East has six of the skateway’s 36 access points. A sixth of all users change into their skates at the community’s canal stairs. The OOE skateway entrances range in size from the rest area at Concord Street with its BeaverTail shack and OOE architect Anthony Leaning’s change facilities to the simple steps at Hawthorne, Hazel and Herridge streets.

As the central part of the skateway, the OOE section is the first section to open for the skating season and the last to close. There are two skater-friendly services on Hawthorne Avenue: food and drinks at the Canal Royal Oak, and skate rentals and sharpening at Cyco’s.

“The skateway makes a huge difference for our business,” said Luke Banks, manager of the Royal Oak. “It’s great for business and for the neighbourhood.”

When the canal is open,  the pub, located at the Hawthorne stairs, does three times as much business as when the skateway is closed.

The extra business doesn’t just stumble in by accident. Banks and his staff occasionally don skates and hand out coupons to lucky skaters.

Gord Martin, co-owner of Cyco’s, agreed canal skaters bring additional business to his shop. Martin and his brother Bruce sharpen long speed-skate blades, something that can’t be done with standard skate-sharpening equipment.

Cyco’s also received a boost in skate rentals from the new rink of dreams at city hall.

The skateway opened in mid-January and closed 38 days later at the end of February. This was a far cry from the 95 days of canal skating in 1972, and even less than the average of 50 days.

Despite the shorter skating season, the National Capital Commission continued to improve skateway maintenance.

No longer are there pumping holes that used to trip unwary skaters in the night. The cracks that would once become crevices have largely disappeared as a result of new flooding methods.

“The use of the Froster FW60 [water dispersion system] gives better results as far as filling in the cracks and divots on the ice surface,” said NCC spokesperson Denise LeBlanc. “This system gives the operator better control with regard to the quantity of water dispersed on the ice surface. During colder nights the water flow is increased to the point where all cracks and divots are filled.

“The contractor uses high-volume pumps to flood the snow that has fallen on the ice,” LeBlanc added, describing practices at the beginning of the season. “The snow absorbs the water and in time turns to ice. With this technique we can accelerate the ice thickening process on the skateway and, at the same time, remove snow that acts as a thermal blanket on the ice.”

OOE residents remain as devoted to canal skating as ever.

“I skate every morning when the conditions are good,” said King’s Landing resident Jim Strang. “It’s a wonderful luxury to be able to access one of Ottawa’s best known attractions only five minutes from home. I normally head north towards Rideau Street and with the sun behind, have a photographer’s dream of a view of the bridges, the Chateau and peaks of Parliament.

“After a quick turn at Rideau, then it’s south past the sight of our future pedestrian bridge to Landsdowne, through the ‘cut,’ Dows Lake, the locks at the end of the line, and then back home,” Strang added. “At my leisurely senior skater’s pace, it is an enjoyable 40 minutes or so of easy exercise and great sightseeing. Indeed, it’s a super way to start the day and just one of the benefits of living in Old Ottawa East.”

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