People have a lot to say about Ottawa, and it’s not always nice. Sometimes I say things about Ottawa that aren’t nice. But in general, I like it here. I’m pretty convinced that there are many worse places that I could live (I won’t list any by name… chances are you live there and then you’ll tell me that I’m wrong and your city is not so bad and mine is, and we’ll get in a big fight, and that’s NOT what I’m after).
One of the things I want to use this blog for, is to write about things I like about Ottawa. And in my opinion, one of the very best things about Ottawa is the Rideau Canal Skateway – which is open during the winter for a couple months – weather permitting. It’s 7.8 km long. That means that if you go all the way to one end and then all the way back you’ve skated for 15.6 km. I wonder how many times you’d have to go around a hockey arena to skate that far? The skateway is fleeting. In order to take advantage of it you need to seize the moment and get outside, in winter, when it’s COLD (but of course, that’s the point)! This year it was open for 38 days. I skated 5 times – which I was pretty pleased with. 5 weekends in a row of skating.
It’s hard to describe why I love the canal so much. I’m not a great skater (I can’t even stop). I can count on one hand the number of times I went skating during the 10 years I lived in Vancouver (not that many – and always outdoors). It’s not something that I seek out for the sake of doing it (in an arena say). But I find that there is an amazing feeling of freedom skating outside on the canal. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s easy to move and in general in winter it’s hard to move. There’s snow in the way, sidewalks are slushy, the walk has to be shovelled before you can take the car out, pushing a stroller is a major workout… all of these obstacles are gone when you skate on the canal. Some people here even skate to work, just because they can! Skating is like walking, but just a little bit faster, so there’s that feeling like you’re cheating somehow. I think there’s also something about being on ice. Most of the year, most of us only experience the canal (and most other bodies of water) from the sidelines. We look down on it and walk beside it, but don’t go on it. But in the winter we can see the city from an entirely different angle. In places you can almost forget you’re in a city.
I love the feeling of being a part of the community in a greater sense than I get every day. According to the official skateway website there were 835 000 visits to the canal while it was open this year! I like the idea of this shared experience with so many people from my city. But I also love the canal because it’s unique. It’s an experience that’s only available in Ottawa – it can’t be franchised. They can’t recreate it in Vancouver or St. John’s or Toronto. If you want to do it, you have to come here. And people do come (as the numbers above show). Me, I can walk out of my house and go for a skate for an hour in an afternoon. It’s a privilege I get because I live here and I’d be silly not to take advantage of it.
And finally – there’s just something wonderful about getting outside in winter. Winter in cold places is largely spent indoors. Excuses to get outside need to be taken, especially when they highlight the unique and special aspects of winter and can, at least for a little while, help you to forget that it’s cold, dark and hard to get around. When I’m skating on the canal I don’t want winter to end, I don’t mind the cold and I feel extremely lucky to live in Ottawa.
For more information about the canal – you can check out the “official” website.