For nearly 130 years, explosions on the Rideau River have heralded the end of winter.
The city has been blasting the ice as part of its annual pre-spring flood control operations since the 1880s.
This Saturday, for the first time in history, the blasting and ice breaking work will be recorded by camera crews filming for the British television documentary Human Planet.
Human Planet examines how people around the world interact with different environments around the world.
Ottawa will be featured in an episode focusing on human interaction with rivers, along with sequences from Laos, India, Brazil and Africa.
Ottawa is unique in that “it’s the only story we are doing that shows how people in an urban environment deal with the changing face of a river,” Human Planet’s associate producer Ciaran Flannery.
Flannery said his producers in Britain couldn’t believe that blasting would happen in such a central location that is so close to Rideau Hall and the Prime Minister’s residence.
“It’s something that folks in Ottawa take for granted, but everybody in the UK is really impressed with what happens here,” he said. “Cutting keys and then blasting them is something completely foreign to them.”
Public works crews were cutting large keys – which reduce the amount of explosives needed when blasting begins on Saturday – into the ice yesterday.
Only the section between the Rideau Falls and the Union Street bridge is blasted. Ice of the rest of the river is broken up by an ice-breaking boat called the Amphibex.
The Amphibex has allowed the city reduce the need for explosives from 8000 kg to as little as 700 kg per season to break up the 9 km stretch of the river from Hog’s Back to the Rideau Falls.