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Outdoor Ice Skating in Canada

Outdoor ice skating in Canada has been enjoyed by millions of people for over 150 years. While the Native peoples skated out of necessity, Europeans developed it for sport. Many Canadian children learn to skate as soon as they learn to walk. Ice skating was necessary for the development of the sport of ice hockey where Canadian players have become some of the best in the game. Skating, on its own, has become a necessary diversion from the long, cold winters.

History of Canadian Ice Skating

Outdoor ice skating in Canada originated as a form of transportation across Canadian frozen lakes and ponds. The Iroquois tied the shinbones of animals to their footwear with deerskin rope to skate across lakes instead of traversing the shoreline. The French explorers of Acadia (Eastern Canada) were thought to have ice skated in the early 1600’s.

British officers based in Canada in the mid 1800’s, introduced ice skating races to relieve the boredom and isolation of the cold winter months. It wasn’t long before it caught on as a standard Canadian winter activity becoming a favorite social pastime for all to enjoy. Like snowshoeing in Canada, ice skating evolved from a mode of transportation to a favorite winter sport.

The first recorded Canadian speed skating race occurred in 1854 as three British officers took part in a race from Montreal to Quebec City (257 km or 160 miles) along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ice skating races, as well as recreational outdoor skating, quickly became a popular part of the many winter activities in Canada.

By 1887, the Amateur Skating Association of Canada was formed. It staged the first official skating championship that same year. That Canadian ice skating association is known today as Speed Skating Canada.

Canadian Ice Rinks

The popularity of outdoor ice skating in Canada led to the development of the first ice rinks. Most were sheltered from the wind and snow with large shed-like coverings. The Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal was the largest and most famous rink. Built in 1862, it became the standard rink size for Canadian ice hockey.

In 1911 the first artificial ice rinks appeared in British Columbia and arenas are now found in most communities throughout Canada. Ice Skating, hockey, and figure skating are a part of Canadian heritage and culture. In many communities, life revolves around the indoor skating rinks for social interaction.

As much as the indoor ice rinks provide warmth and comfort throughout the long winter months, outdoor ice skating in Canada is something everyone should experience. Many Canadians build backyard rinks where they and their children can skate and play hockey in the safety of their yard.

Others pack up the car and travel to a frozen pond or lake on a sunny Saturday. A lunch is packed and the equipment loaded for a truly enjoyable day. A favorite childhood memory of mine is hiking through some woods to a frozen pond. My brothers and I lacing our skates as my father drilled into the ice in various places to ensure that it was safe. We’d play hockey for hours while stopping for a hot chocolate break occasionally.

Essential Equipment

Unlike the cost of equipment for skiing in Canada, outdoor ice skating is an inexpensive adventure. Other than a pair of skates that fit properly, the only other requirements are:
  • Winter clothing – scarf, gloves, hat, sweaters, and coat. Wear layers of clothes.
  • Wear loose fitting pants or snow-pants to allow for easy movement.
  • A sense of balance or extra padding
Ensure your skates fit properly for skating outdoors to avoid getting cold feet or minor frostbite.

Canadian Ice Skating Outdoor Rinks

Outdoor ice skating in Canada is a popular pastime with every province providing skating rinks for its citizens. Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has 49 outdoor rinks for recreational skaters. The most famous being Nathan Philips Square located at Toronto City Hall.

If you are snowboarding in Canada at Jasper, Banff, or Lake Louise, spend a day ice skating at their outdoor skating areas. Banff has a 500-meter loop on the Bow River or if you are in Jasper, head to Jasper Lake which contains a 1000-meter loop. Lake Louise offers a 500-meter track.

The Longest Ice Skating Trails in Canada

Sylvan Lake, Alberta has the longest skating track in North America at 10 kilometers while Ottawa’s Rideau Canal at 7.8 kilometers boasts being the largest groomed outdoor ice surface in the world. Joliette, Quebec has an 8.5 kilometer track on the Riviere L’Assomption.

If you’re traveling on the West Coast of Canada, Grouse Mountain is the place to don the blades on its 8,000 square foot Ice Skating Pond.

Canadian ice skating is enjoyed by young and old alike. It is an inexpensive way to spend a day in the great outdoors. Whether you live in Canada or are visiting the Great White North, you owe to yourself to lace up the skates and enjoy this pastime.
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