The canal won’t open this year, but one local vendor still hopes for ‘glorious winters to come’

Rideau Canal in winter

Mark Watson and his team at Dunrobin Distilleries were hoping to toast Ottawans and tourists alike on the Rideau Canal Skateway this winter, but they’ll have to settle for raising a glass from home this evening after today’s announcement that the canal will not open at all this season.

The National Capital Commission confirmed that the skateway, the world’s largest outdoor skating rink, will not open this season due to warm temperatures.

Watson is co-owner and “founding brewfather” at Dunrobin Distilleries, which made history last year when the Stittsville-based company sold alcohol out of a licensed cocktail kiosk on the canal. Anticipating weeks of serving hot toddies and spiked maple sap, Watson’s team has been preparing since September, from training new staff and updating signage, to developing menus and ordering biodegradable cups.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

“It’s disappointing, but what can you do?” Watson told OBJ. “It’s Mother Nature … you win some, you lose some.”

With the costs of planning and preparation, as well as the opportunity cost of lost sales, Watson estimates that missing this season on the skateway has cost the distillery around $10,000. 

The NCC says it has been assessing and getting ready for the effects of climate change on the internationally renowned winter tourist attraction for several years. But this is the first time that weather has prevented the 7.8-km stretch from opening at all.

The NCC says the latest tests showed the ice surface remained unsafe to skate on and that any more efforts to change the situation were unlikely to work. It also says the warmer-than-usual temperatures, snow and rain caused the ice to be thin and porous.

As of Feb. 2, the skateway had already experienced a record-setting delay in opening for the season. But hopefully this year’s events will be the exception, if environmentally mindful Dunrobin Distilleries has anything to say about it.

“We’re trying to be the greenest distillery in Canada and we’re doing everything in our might to reduce our carbon footprint so that there won’t be any more global warming and there will be glorious winters for years to come,” said Watson. 

“I’m hoping next year we’ll have several locations, one at each end of the canal,” he said. “It’s no one’s fault – it’s just the way the cookie crumbles. It’s Mother Nature in action, and safety comes first.”

-with files from the Canadian Press

Get our email newsletters

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.