End of One Canal Season; the Start of Another

Some friends in Ottawa think of this as the saddest time of year: the days in October when the Rideau Canal is drained in preparation for the skating season, still months away.

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Just weeks ago, the temperatures were hot, the sun was bright, and the canal locks full.

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But on October 9 — the day after Thanksgiving Monday — there were telltale signs that the water levels were dropping. Notice the bit of river bank on the opposite side? It wasn’t there the last time I bicycled by.

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Sure enough, a half kilometer upstream, where the Rideau Canal diverts from the Rideau River at Mooney’s Bay, the dams at Hogs Back Falls had been lowered, and the river came rushing through.

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At Hartwell Locks — the upper end of what will become the 7.8 km Rideau Canal Skateway — the locks that were used to lift or lower boats on their way along the system…

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… are now open, dry, and used for boat storage.

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The water that is permitted to flow through the canal bypasses the locks.

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A few weeks ago, that outflow was below the water surface.

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In a couple of months, this same spot will mark the end of the Rideau Canal Skateway.

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At the other end of this stretch of canal, where the locks descend to the Ottawa River just below Canada’s Parliament Buildings and the Chateau Laurier, the sluices are opened. Here’s the locks at the height of the boating season.

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From May until October, the Rideau Canal is enjoyed by boaters.

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They’d have a rough time navigating it now!

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Big seasonal changes at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion.

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In a couple of months, the Canada geese and the ducks will be replaced by skaters.

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And like the poet said, “When winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

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Why does the National Capital Commission drain the Rideau Canal at this time of year?

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Partly for maintenance purposes: the original stonework was laid in the 1830s and there’s always something that needs attention. I guess it must be easier to make masonry repairs without trying to work under water!

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Partly because the pressure of the freezing water on a full canal would push against the canal walls and make maintenance even more of a problem.

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Partly to battle the zebra mussels — an invasive species that, in recent years, has been choking up the waterways of Eastern Canada.

And, of course, the infrastructure of boating season must be replaced with the infrastructure of skating season.

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But right now, there’s not enough water in the canal to form a skateway.

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After a few weeks and some freezing temperatures, Parks Canada allows more water into the canal — enough to form the foundation of at least 10 cms of ice, with plenty of water below the ice. At night, National Capital Commission crews pump water onto the surface. It freezes and maintains the skating surface.

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So the sad days when the canal is drained…

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…will soon become the season for skating on the canal.

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Scottish Month plans for a Third Big Event

They call it “Scottish Month” — that period between December 31 and January 31 when all Canada seems to be Scottish, and all Canadians nurture their inner Scot.

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In the nation’s capital, Scottish Month is about to get even bigger with the traditional Rabbie Burns dinner expanding to become a full fledged charity gala, with a ceilidh added for good measure. Mark your calendars for January 19, 2019.

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For Scots around the world, Rabbie Burns birthday on January 25 has long been the highlight of the year. In Ottawa, it has been one part of a triad of events organized by the Scottish Society of Ottawa. For the fifth year, New Year’s Eve will bring thousands of revelers out to the annual “Hogman-eh!” celebrations.

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A few weeks later, everyone is encouraged to celebrate Scotland’s contribution to Canada’s multicultural mosaic through the Great Canadian Kilt Skate. By last winter, the event had expanded to include seven cities across Canada.

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And of course, there’s the Burns Dinner. For several years, the SSO’s Rabbie Burns dinner was organized by member Brian Lyall and held at the Heart and Crown Pub in the Byward Market.

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Last year, SSO joined the patrons for a Burns dinner at the Highlander Pub.

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The Burns supper was an important event on SSO’s calendar — this January, more than ever. It will vie with an event like Hogmanay that drew as many as 8,000 revelers, and the kilt skates which has garnered international attention. You’ll want to be there.

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The SSO is pulling out all the stops for its Burns gala and ceilidh. Rather than a local pub, the event will be held at the Trillium Ballroom of the Shaw Centre.

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The dinner will feature four courses, including the haggis, which will be duly addressed. The Immortal Memory will be toasted by John Ivison. Not only is John one of Canada’s most respected journalist, he was one of the founding members of the Scottish Society of Ottawa and served for several years as its inaugural Executive Director. He’s also a keen enthusiast of the Great Canadian Kilt Skate!

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The ceilidh portion of the even will feature The Brigadoons, who are sure to get the crowd up on the dance floor. To see how Scottish country dance can be done by folks who know what they’re doing, we’ll be treated to performances by The Royal Scottish Dance Society, Ottawa Branch, and the Ardbrae Country Dance Society of Ottawa. The music portion of the evening will be rounded off with Cape Breton Fiddlers and the Cameron Highlanders Pipes and Drums.

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Tickets are limited. Only 300 will be sold and they’re expected to sell out fast. They’re available at the Scottish Society of Ottawa’s website. The price is $150 for SSO members and the general public, $135 for VIP members of the Scottish Society of Ottawa.

Membership to the SSO is free to everyone, and gives access to the electronic newsletter that gives information about events in the area of interest to the Scottish community and to Scots at heart. For $20 (individuals) or $30 (family), a VIP membership can be purchased, which gives a 10% discount on SSO events. Even before the other upcoming events, the Burns gala alone nearly pays for the VIP membership.

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A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Children’s Wish Foundation, and a tax receipt provided.

Mark your calendars now for January 19, 2019. Better still, go to the Scottish Society of Ottawa’s website and purchase tickets for THE Burns event of the nation’s capital.

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Kingston considers Sir John A.'s Legacy

Kingston considers Sir John A.'s Legacy

In an effort to get ahead of the issue and provide a forum where different versions of his history can be discussed, the City of Kingston today launched a consultation through its "Get Involved" website. Residents are also invited to bring their comments and suggestions to City Hall. The City’s website includes a very good summary of the issues involved.

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Sir John A. and D'Arcy McGee -- the Judgement of Our Times

Sir John A. and D'Arcy McGee -- the Judgement of Our Times

We keep judging the conduct of past generations. In Canada, the controversy continues about whether to remove statues of Sir John A. Macdonald. And last week in Ireland, D'Arcy McGee -- who delivered the support of Irish Canadians to Sir John A. and for Confederation -- stood on trial before a jury of his... well, not his peers, exactly, given that his jury was very much alive while he, the witnesses, and the court officials were not!

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BBC Scotland looks at the Macdonald Controversy

BBC Scotland looks at the Macdonald Controversy

The potential withdrawal of the Scottish Government's support for anything associated with Sir John A. Macdonald has drawn the attention of the media in Britain to the kilt skate phenomenon. The Scottish Society of Ottawa has been in discussions with the Scottish Government on the future of the event. On Tuesday, August 21, Mhairi Stuart of the BBC Scotland drive home show "Newsdrive"interviewed the originator of the kilt skate and the former organizer of the national event, Don Cummer, on the issue.


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Scottish government is actively distancing itself from John A. Macdonald: report

Scottish government is actively distancing itself from John A. Macdonald: report

As statues of Sir John A. Macdonald are vandalized or removed in the country he founded, the late politician is also being disavowed by the country where he was born. A Monday report in The Times wrote that “all references” to the Scottish-born leader are being excised from official Scottish government websites and documents.

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Macdonald, McGee and the spirit of Reconciliation

Macdonald, McGee and the spirit of Reconciliation

His determination to find ways to reconcile opposing views came from a lifetime of wrestling with issues and being willing to change his opinions if he came upon new evidence.  It also helped that he was working alongside a group of individuals who themselves were gifted in their unique abilities and their capacities to work together to make Confederation happen:  George Brown with his vision for westward expansion; A.T. Galt with his financial acumen; George Etienne Cartier with his ability to work with partners outside of Quebec; and bringing them all together with his good humour, constitutional expertise and unsurpassed leadership, John A. Macdonald.

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The Times of London on Scottish Government and Sir John A.

The Times of London on Scottish Government and Sir John A.

A government spokesman said: “We acknowledge the controversy around Sir John A Macdonald’s legacy and the legitimate concerns expressed by indigenous communities on the commemoration of his life. The views of these communities must be respected, and we will continue discussions with Kilt Skate organisers and indigenous representatives on the branding and purpose of the event before taking a decision in respect of future funding.”

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National Organizers Stepping Down

National Organizers Stepping Down

Don Cummer and Sue MacGregor have announced to the Scottish Society of Ottawa that they are stepping down as national organizers of Sir John A's Great Canadian Kilt Skate.  Cummer, who began the tradition of kilt skating to celebrate the birthday of Canada's first Prime Minister, helped organize the first national kilt skate in 2015 and has been the event's public face ever since.  MacGregor volunteered in hosting the 2016 Ottawa event when she and her husband had returned from diplomatic postings, and organized the operations of the national events in 2017 and 2018.

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Report to the Scottish Society of Ottawa Annual General Meeting

Report to the Scottish Society of Ottawa Annual General Meeting

The national event was the most successful yet in the four years of Sir John A’s Great Canadian Kilt Skate. With $15,000 in funding from the Scottish Government, sponsored events were held in seven cities (two more than last year), and the attendance numbers in most of the cities increased significantly from the previous year.

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Irish Month has a Scottish flair

Irish Month has a Scottish flair

The City of Ottawa has declared January to be Scottish Month, but surely the month of March belongs to the Irish.  St. Patrick's Day is still a week away, but already the stores and pubs across town are filled with Irish themes.  And when Beau's Brewery decides to host a St. Patrick's party on March 10 rather than the 17th, well who are we to refuse an invitation to enjoy a good time? Especially when a group of former hockey parents haven't seen one another in a while.

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Family Day on Bowness Lagoon

Family Day on Bowness Lagoon

In 1990, the province of Alberta proclaimed the first "Family Day" holiday in Canada -- a chance to get together and, hopefully, get outside with the family for a mid-winter break. In Calgary, a good place to get together is Bowness Park.  In summer months, it's an amusement park where you can rent canoes, go for a ride on a miniature railway, or enjoy the kiddy rides.  In winter the lagoon of the Bow River is maintained as a skating rink.


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Kilt skating the Rockies

Kilt skating the Rockies

We've celebrated the last of the official kilt skates, but the joy of skating in the kilt lives on. And when the Rocky Mountains beckon, why not don the kilt, pack the skates and the saltire, and head west out of Calgary. 

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Winnipeg: kilt skating at 30-below

Winnipeg: kilt skating at 30-below

The temperatures in Western Canada on the morning of Sunday, February 11, dropped to the minus-20 range. In Calgary, the skaters were sheltered somewhat by the tall buildings. The Riley Family Duck Pond in Assiniboine Park, on the other hand, has little to shelter it from winds that sweep down from the Arctic.  Wind chill made the temperature feel like it was 30-below.

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North Glengarry shows us a different way

North Glengarry shows us a different way

Weather in the Ottawa Valley has not been kind to plans for kilt skates. When they first envisioned a kilt skate for North Glengarry, the Clan Donald Society imagined kilted skaters on the Alexandria Mill Pond.  But the deep freezes and the rapid thaws and occasional rains of the past weeks made a pond skate impractical.  So they decided to do something different.

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Winnipeg: a seventh kilt skate city!

Winnipeg: a seventh kilt skate city!

WINNIPEG – On Sunday, February 11, at the Riley Family Duck Pond, Qualico Family Centre, Assinboine Park, the people of Winnipeg will take to the ice in their kilts, tartans and other Scottish regalia in an effort to claim the title of “Kilt Skate Capital of Canada.”

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