The Battle to Build the World’s Largest Ice Skating Rink

The ‘cold war’ is back.  Well, at least it is according to the mayor of a small town in British Columbia’s East Kootenay region.

The origins of this story date back to 1971 in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, Ontario.  Running through the middle of the city is the historic Rideau Canal, a 202 km (126 mi) waterway opened in 1832 connecting the Ottawa River at Ottawa with Lake Ontario at Kingston.  Until the early 20th century, the Rideau was a major shipping route between Montreal and the Great Lakes (with connections to New York via the Erie Canal).  As rail and road travel lessened the need for the canal’s services, it became a recreational pathway for pleasure boaters in summer and ice skaters in winter, lured by the slack water which made for smooth sailing or smooth ice, depending on the season (the recreational value was noticed early on, and Parks Canada has operated the canal since 1926; it earned UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2007).

As Ottawa entered the 1970s, the growing city was looking for space to build an expressway, and the municipal government proposed paving over part of the Rideau for a right-of-way.  Because of the federal government’s ownership of the Rideau, this plan was denied.  As a federal possession within metropolitan Ottawa, the part of the canal within Ottawa fell under the jurisdiction of the federal National Capital Commission (NCC), which counter-proposed with a recreation corridor along the canal stretching between Carleton University in the south and the National Arts Centre, a distance of 7.8 km (4.8 mi).  A group of NCC employees scraped out a rink in front of the Arts Centre using brooms and shovels, and on 18 January 1971 the Rideau Canal Skateway was born.  It was soon pushed out to stretch the entire length of the canal between the Arts Centre and Carleton, and has operated every winter since.  The skateable surface totals 165 600 m2 (1 782 700 sq ft), or about 90 Olympic-sized rinks, making it the world’s largest dedicated ice skating rink (certified as such by Guinness World Records in 2005).  Today, the Skateway sees around 1 million visitors each year.

For many years, the Rideau Skateway’s status as the world’s largest rink went unchallenged until a new Manitoban rival emerged in the form of Winnipeg’s River Trail (known for sponsorship purposes at the Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail).  Inaugurated in the early 1990s at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers (a historic location known as The Forks), each the River Trail is pushed out as long as possible (southward along the Red and westward along the Assiniboine).  In 2008, it officially beat the Rideau Canal in terms of length when Guinness certified the trail at 8.54 km (5.31 mi), making the River Trail the world’s longest rink.  Note the word longest, for that is an important distinction.  The River Trail rink is usually pushed out to a double-track width of around 4 m (13 ft), which results in a rink size of ‘only’ around 119 600 m2 (1 287 500 sq ft), or around 65 Olympic-sized rinks; a fair bit smaller than the Rideau rink.  Another point of contention is that the full 9.34 km are not necessarily utilised each year due to the potential for rough and choppy ice; for example, last winter a rink of only 3 km (2 mi) in length was made.  But when in full effect, the River Trail is indeed the longest dedicated skating rink in the world.

2012, however, may mark the year both the Rideau Canal and the River Trail lose their respective positions.  As you probably guessed from the lede, this winter there is a new challenger on the block.  The resort towns of Invermere and Windermere, British Columbia sit between the Purcell Mountains to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east in a wide valley known as the Rocky Mountain Trench.  The width of the valley means it is home to many large lakes, and both Invermere and Windermere lie on the shore of Windermere Lake.


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The Toby Creek Nordic Club maintains a 17.5 km loop around the lake when it freezes in winter. The trail is called the Lake Windermere Whiteway, and has tracks for both cross-country skiers and ice skaters  Currently, the entire loop is 5 m (17 ft) wide.  This past November, the Invermere Business Committee announced it was aiming to double the width of the Whiteway and smooth its entire surface for skating in order to claim the title of the world’s largest rink.  Such an action would increase the total surface area of the Whiteway to approximately 175 000 m2 (1 883 700 sq ft, or around 95 Olympic-sized rinks).  The effort would cost around CDN$30 000, including the construction of a ‘winter village’ featuring open-air hockey rinks, curling sheets, a snow golf course, and even a snowball fighting area.  The money is being raised by ‘selling off’ each metre of the trail for a $2 donationThe mayor of Invermere has already fired off letters to his counterparts in Ottawa and Winnipeg, letting them know that the challenge is on (and yes, Guinness have been notified).  A two-man crew can flood the rink at a rate of 200 metres per hour.  Now they just need the right temperature and snow to get started.  By the end of January, we should know whether or not the Lake Windermere Whiteway has indeed become the world’s largest ice skating rink.

Further Reading

Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail (2011).  Assiniboine Credit Union River Trail.  Available at http://www.rivertrail.ca/wp/.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

Campbell, J. (2008).  Cold war rages over world’s longest skating rink.  Ottawa Citizen, 27 January 2008. Available at http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=000435b6-fecf-4cba-a0ba-37044f948252&k;=36121/.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

CBC News (2011).  Cold war: Who has world’s biggest rink?  30 December 2011.  Available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2011/12/30/longest-rink.html.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

CTV News (2008).  Rideau Canal declared largest skating rink.  27 January 2008.  Available at http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20050804/rideau_canal_050804/#ixzz1iNinCqGu.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

Klassen, A. (2011).  A world record for Invermere?  Invermere Valley Echo, 15 November 2011.  Available at http://www.invermerevalleyecho.com/news/133894643.html.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

National Capital Commission (2012).  Rideau Canal Skateway.  Available at http://www.canadascapital.gc.ca/places-to-visit/rideau-canal-skateway.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

Toby Creek Nordic Club (2011).  Lake Windermere Whiteway.  Available at http://www.tobycreeknordic.ca/lake-windermere-whiteway.  Accessed 3 January 2012.

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