History of the Rideau Canal Skateway

It was Douglas Fullerton, NCC chairman from 1969 to 1973, who came up with the idea of creating a skating rink on the Rideau Canal.
Each winter, the historic Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, becomes the Rideau Canal Skateway, the world’s largest skating rink.

This year, we are celebrating our 50th season.

The Rideau Canal Skateway was first opened during the 1970–1971 season. The idea to turn the Rideau Canal into a skateway came from then-newly appointed NCC chair Doug Fullerton. In January 1971, a team of NCC employees armed with brooms and shovels turned his idea into a reality. They cleared a small section of ice between the Mackenzie King and Laurier bridges near the National Arts Centre.

It was then extended as a six-metre-wide skating track on the canal ice surface to Dows Lake, a distance of about 5 km. At the area between the bridges, lighting and music were added to increase the enjoyment of skating in the evening. Despite the heavy snow and many hours of overtime, the NCC crews managed to keep the skating area cleared.

That season, hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors made their way onto the ice to start a new winter tradition. Our knowledge and expertise in the science of ice have come a long way since then!

Today, the Rideau Canal Skateway winds over 7.8 km through the heart of the Capital, and is a key site for Winterlude celebrations in February. The average skating season is 50 days, but the record is 95 days (1971–1972 season).

Glimpse of previous season lengths

Here are some of the milestones in the rich history of the Rideau Canal Skateway.

One attempt in the early 1980s to break the Guinness World Record for the longest human chain (7.8 km) — in solidarity with the United Way.

1971: It’s the very first season of the Rideau Canal Skateway!

1979: Winterlude launches, and the Rideau Canal Skateway is at centre stage.

1980: The Skateway hosts the first edition of the international Outdoor Curling Challenge at Dows lake. This event becomes an annual tradition.

1981: BeaverTails® become a part of the Skateway experience, and the pastry stand finds a home on Dows Lake. Prior to 1981, the popular pastry was called “The Elephant Ear,” but the name was later changed to make it more Canadian.

1982: A second attempt is made on the Skateway to break the Guinness World Record for the longest human chain.

1985: The Skateway hosts its last quarter-mile horse racing event, which had run annually since 1979.

1990s: In the ’90s, the Skateway continues to host and expand its offering of special activities, including hockey games, curling games, speed skating competitions and many concerts.

2003: The first annual Ice-Carving Masters Invitational launches on the Skateway during Winterlude.

In 2005, 110 shinny hockey games took place on the Rideau Canal Skateway to celebrate Hockey Day in the Capital.

2004: The Skateway hosts Hockey Day in the Capital, where more than 100 simultaneous shinny hockey games take place along the ice.

2005: The Skateway is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest naturally frozen ice rink in the world.

2007: The Rideau Canal becomes a National Historic Site of Canada and UNESCO World Heritage Site and, that same year, the NCC fine-tunes its ice-building process by flooding the surface of the ice.

2011: “The Froster,” a new ice resurfacer, revolutionizes maintenance of the Skateway.

2017: The Skateway hosts 150 hockey games to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. It is also selected as the best ice skating rink in North America by the readers of USA Today.

2018: Lonely Planet names the Skateway one of North America’s most spectacular winter destinations.

2018–2019: The Skateway welcomes 1,493,524 visits — a new record!


50th Season Anniversary Activities

Celebrate the 50th season of the Rideau Canal Skateway this winter with a range of special activities offered by the NCC.

Social media photo frame

Capture and share your Skateway memories on social media! The frames offer a panoramic view of the Skateway and surrounding historical architecture. Located at the 0 KM marker and the 5th Avenue rest area.

Roving DJ

There is no better way to celebrate our beloved Skateway than with a dance party on the ice. Over the course of 5 Saturday nights, the roving DJ booth will make its way from the Dow’s Pavilion to Waverley St, and back. Each night will feature a playlist that represents music from one of the previous five decades.

Skateway memories photo exhibit

Skate your way to the Bank St bridge to admire 10 photographs that perfectly capture the last 50 seasons of winter memories in the capital.

Winter sports ice rink

Plan a hockey game with friends and family by reserving ice time on the winter sports ice rink located in front of the Dows Pavilion.