In winter, a section of the Rideau Canal passing through central Ottawa becomes officially the world's largest skating rink. Winnipeg lays claim to world's longest skating path but is much narrower than the Rideau Canal which makes it impossible for it to compete in terms of overall size. The cleared length is 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) and has the equivalent surface area of 90 Olympic hockey rinks. It runs from the Hartwell locks at Carleton University to the locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier, including Dow's Lake in between. It serves as a popular tourist attraction and recreational area and is also the focus of the Winterlude festival in Ottawa. Beaver Tails, a fried dough pastry, are sold along with other snacks and beverages, in kiosks on the skateway. In January 2008, Winnipeg, Manitoba achieved the record of the world's longest skating rink at a length of 8.54 kilometers, but with a width of only 2 to 3 metres wide, on its Assiniboine River and Red River at The Forks. In response, the Rideau Canal was rebranded as "the world's largest skating rink".
Although some residents of Ottawa had been using the canal as an impromptu skating surface for years, the official use of the canal as a skateway and tourist attraction is a more recent innovation. In fact, as recently as the 1970s, the city government of Ottawa considered paving over the canal in order to make an automobile expressway. The federal government's ownership of the canal, however, prevented the city from pursuing this proposal.
When Doug Fullerton was appointed chair of the National Capital Commission, he proposed a recreational corridor around the canal, including the winter skateway between Carleton University and Confederation Park. The plan was implemented despite opposition by city council, and 50,000 people skated on the canal on the first weekend. City councilor and author Clive Doucet credits this transformation of the canal with reinvigorating the communities of the Glebe, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South.
It has been reported that the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators are exploring the possibility of playing a regular season game outdoors on the Rideau Canal, using temporary bleachers for the spectators.
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