Tracey Tong/metro ottawa


Ottawa’s Jennifer Smith makes her way to work via her skates on the frozen Rideau Canal recently.


Whether you drive or take the bus, commuting to work in the core during rush hour can be a huge pain.

So when the National Capital Commission and OC Transpo partnered to launch a pilot project encouraging commuters to skate to work via the Rideau Canal Skateway earlier this month, I decided to give it a try. Although I’d skated the canal from Dows Lake to the National Arts Centre about a dozen times this season alone, I considered it to be a form of recreation, not a mode of transportation.

I had to get up several hours earlier to make it to work on time. I took the O-Train to Carling Station, walked to Dows Lake and laced up my skates.

It was a bit more complicated than I’d expected. I’m a competent skater, but my backpack containing boots, camera bag, notebooks and my lunch threw off my balance. But it was far more enjoyable than sitting stuck in traffic, trapped in my tank of an SUV. And for the most part, the ice along my 7.8-kilometre commute was smooth — during the skating season, maintenance workers flood the ice or clear away snow nightly.

Ottawa’s skate to work campaign is unique in Canada, said Michel Henry, who is leading the initiative from the NCC side.

"I can’t think of anywhere else that has outdoor skating rinks that let you skate to work," said Henry, who used to skate to work while working for the National Arts Centre in the 1980s.

"It was perfect," he recalled. "You get to work really invigorated and end your day the same way."

Like Henry, hundreds of Ottawans skate to work at least part of the winter season.

"It takes longer than walking, but so what?" said Jim Stone, a Department of Foreign Affairs employee who skated to work for the first time in years recently. "It’s cheaper, cleaner, faster and more reliable than the bus, and it’s great exercise. And there aren’t many places where you can do this."

The way June Hubbs sees it, the canal skating season doesn’t last long and people need to take advantage of it. She not only commutes to work via the skateway, but makes time to skate a few laps as well. Jennifer Smith, who works for the Meteorological Service of Canada, skates to work three times a week during the season.

"It’s very relaxing and very refreshing and gives you a chance to collect your thoughts while you commute," she said.

Canal commuters are also friendlier, said Statistics Canada employee Joseph Duggan.

"People don’t smile on the bus, but they smile and wave on the canal," he said.