Originally published on OpenFile Montreal on February 23, 2012
Man skates down Lachine Canal in bid to create skateway
A Montreal man says he is risking police fines – and personal injury – to be able to skate on the Lachine Canal.
Longtime Pointe-Saint-Charles resident Mario Normandin is the co-founder of Patinons sur le canal Lachine, a group dedicated to transforming the Lachine Canal into a skateway similar to Ottawa’s Rideau Canal.
“Skating on the Lachine Canal would be a great asset for the area,” Normandin said.
“People would come to skate, have a hot chocolate, shop for their supper at the market before going home with their lungs filled with fresh air.”
But Normandin’s dream of gliding down the smooth ice through Montreal’s southwest neighbourhood isn’t quite as simple in reality.
There are significant physical and financial barriers to overcome before a Lachine Canal skateway would be possible.
After falling into disuse following the opening of the St-Lawrence Seaway, the canal underwent a renaissance in 2002 when Parks Canada re-opened it to marine traffic at a cost of over $100 million.
It seemed at the time of the renovation, the idea of a skating rink was on the table. A Gazette report from 2000 quoted a Parks Canada employee saying a report was being completed looking at the feasibility of a skating rink on the canal, as well as other winter activities. According to a City of Montreal source, a skateway project was looked at in 2002 but was quickly abandoned.
Part of the barrier to a Lachine Canal skateway are a number of physical factors that prevent the full 14 km of the Lachine Canal from being safe for winter sports.
Some industries along the banks flush warmer water into the canal which creates patches of open, quick-running water.
Also, the water level is deemed too deep to safely provide a solid skating surface.
“To maintain the infrastructure of the canal, the walls and the locks, we keep high water in the canal,” said Parks Canada spokeswoman Marie Tellier. “The water levels are the same as we have in the summer which is over two meters.”
But the physical barriers pale in comparison to a larger obstacle: funding. This is a glaring difference between Montreal’s Lachine Canal and Ottawa’s world famous Rideau Canal skateway.
Parks Canada owns both canals, but Ottawa’s National Capital Commission (NCC) is in charge of the maintenance, organization and safety of the Rideau Skateway. The role of Parks Canada is simply to drain the canal so that the ice is only a few feet thick. “We work very closely with Parks Canada and they do some of the prep work in the fall,” said NCC spokesperson Jasmine Leduc.
The NCC depends on their private investors to help foot the bill for the operation of the Rideau skateway, which this year is $1.354 million. American Express, West Jet, State Farm Insurance, Subway, Pepsi, NRJ, Rouge FM, Majic 100 and Bob FM are all listed sponsors or partners this season.
These kind of financial backers are nowhere to be seen in Montreal. “It’s all a matter of budget, of financial means of making it happen. So far I haven’t seen many people coming to us saying that they’re serious and they want to invest (in the Lachine Canal),” said Tellier. “I would be very happy if it did happen.”
Tellier insisted that if private investors are willing to take on the cost, a similar skateway would be possible here in Montreal. But before any blades hit the ice, infrastructure testing, ice testing and studies of the ice-temperature changes would have to be carried out.
“On the Rideau Canal they have engineers and ice experts who monitor everything and make it happen,” she said. “Not to mention the 24-hour maintenance, 40-45 first-aid first-aid patrollers and numerous infrastructure requirements involved in ensuring a safe experience.”
In comparison to the 932,331 visitors the world’s largest skateway received in Ottawa last season, Montreal’s canal continues to lie as dead as the winter.
Except for Normandin that is.
Despite this winter’s warm weather, Normandin says he’s snuck in at least one clandestine skate on the canal. So far he says he’s only received warnings from police, but he vows to continue to skate – weather permitting.
“We’ll have to continue skating illegally, get tickets from the police, even risk safety hazards without the proper supervision,” he said.