Skate on the World’s Largest Outdoor Ice Rink, Absolutely Free
In the fall of 1826, work began on the Rideau Canal and by the late spring of 1832, the 126-mile project was completed.
Today, the Rideau Canal is a waterway on which boats travel to get from one place to the next during the summer months, but the Canal wasn't built for that reason. At the end of the war of 1812, there was concern that the United States would try to take control of Canada and so the Canal was built to protect Canada and offer the country an easy way to transport military supplies should the need ever arise.
Many locals were called to help build the Canal (which connects Canada's capital city of Ottawa to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River at Kingston, Ontario), but because there was a shortage of able-bodied local residents, nearly 2,000 men were brought in from Ireland to help with the construction and many of these men ended up staying even after work was completed which is one of the reasons that even today, there is a such a strong Irish population in the Ottawa valley.
Once Canada realized that the United States had no intention of invasion, the Canal remained open with the primary use to transport goods and eventually, its use became more of a recreational one as boaters began to utilize the Canal in the summer months to get around the Ottawa valley, however, for a few months every winter, the Rideau Canal is transformed into what the Guinness World Records had crowned, the World's Largest Outdoor Skating Rink.
For the last 50 years, 4.8 miles of the Rideau Canal has been opened to the public to ice skate on, generally from January until the early part of March. Bigger than 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks, the Canal is absolutely free to skate. Any given day will find commuters skating the Canal to bypass Ottawa traffic, families skating while pushing their kids on sleds, impromptu games of hockey, and even people who aren't steady on skates shuffling their way around the ice by foot.
Along the skatable section of the Canal, you'll find food stands, hot chocolate, skate and sled rentals, and even "BeaverTails" pastries. BeaverTails is a pastry that was invented in Ottawa and is a deep-fried, cinnamon and sugar-coated treat (with customizable toppings) that anyone visiting Ottawa must try.
While open, the Rideau Canal is open 24-hours a day and has its own dedicated engineers who religiously test various sections of the ice to make sure the surface is safe for people to be on. If not, they will either close down that section, or the Canal as a whole. There are also safety crews who monitor the open 4.8 miles and are ready to attend to the medical needs of anyone who might need help.
Ottawa is only a few short hours from Central New York and if you want to visit the City and go skating on the Rideau Canal, you'll want to make plans to do so sooner rather than later because the Canal will close to skaters at the very latest in early March. Also, don't forget that you'll need a passport to get in and out of Canada.