The cold weather returns; the canal reopens -- all the way!

Just in time for the last weekend of Winterlude, the Rideau Canal Skateway has reopened. A blast of Arctic air has brought winter back to the city, and the cold has been intense enough that the National Capital Commission has now opened the entire 7.8 kilometers of the skateway.

People come to Winterlude from across the country and around the world. Here's a girls' hockey team, the Bluewater Hawks, from Strathroy Ontario, proud semi-finalists of the Silver Stick tournament that brings hockey players together from across North America.  They have come to Ottawa to skate on the canal and to witness Dion Phaneuf's debut with the Ottawa Senators.  The Senators lost to Colorado 4-3, but the canal was open for the entire length for the first time this season -- and that's got to be worth a trip from Strathroy!

Some of us marked the day by leaning on the fence that, as late as this morning, was stretched across the canal, preventing us from skating the entire length.

The ice is still pretty rough in spots, and there are sections of the skateway where the good ice squeezes into a bottleneck.

And in other spots the work continues to shore up the walls of the Rideau Canal -- a UNESCO World Heritage site first built in the 1830s. 

But for those of us who love to skate the canal, these are small distractions.  The important thing is that the World's Largest Skating Rink is back.

And the concession huts and the fire pits are back too.

The weather's cold, and it's about to get even colder -- dropping below minus-20 tonight. And to give us a hint that the cold front is on its way, a snow squall came roaring down from the north. It shut down Highway 401, and on the Rideau Canal it hit with a blast that left skaters pumping with their heads down into the wind.

At the end of Dow's Lake, the changing tents provide some shelter.

Here's the Dow's Lake Pavilion, where the Scottish Society of Ottawa originally thought we would gather for the 2nd Annual Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate -- but on the January 16 date, the canal was not yet open for skating.

The wind drops, but the snow keeps coming as twilight falls.

And back home again, it's time to shake the snow from clothes, and wipe the skate blades clean.