BeaverTails back? NCC mulling return of concessions to Rideau Canal Skateway

The National Capital Commission says it’s mulling the possibility of allowing concessions and rentals to return to the Rideau Canal Skateway for the upcoming 2022 season.

But plans may change given the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCC said in an email to CBC News on Friday.

An official announcement about the offerings during the skateway’s 52nd annual season is still to come, as the commission consults with public health authorities. But should food vendors be allowed, people will have to wear masks while they line up at concessions and use public washrooms, said Carl Langlois, the NCC’s skateway coordinator. 

Masks will otherwise be recommended while people skate.

“We’ll have probably half of our picnic tables available and our rest areas,” Langlois said. “But our shelters will be closed — so far.” 

No outdoor fire pits will be on site either.

Predicting an opening date for the canal itself is difficult, he added.

“We still have a lot of work to do to achieve our required 30-centimetre [depth] to welcome skaters,” he said.

‘We really missed being out there’

Businesses like skateway staple BeaverTails were not allowed to operate on the canal last year, as officials sought to avoid crowding.

“We really missed being out there last year,” said BeaverTails co-founder Grant Hooker. “We were all ready to go. We did our staffing — we hire anywhere from 300 to 400 young people every winter — and then finally it was decided it might be a spreader event to have lineups.”

If food vendors get the green light, BeaverTails will have staff and signs on-hand to remind people about distancing, Hooker said. 

The well-established business, founded four decades ago in Killaloe, Ont., was able to shoulder the loss of last year’s skateway revenue, he added. 

“If it had been year number one, back in the winter of 1981, we may have moved back to Killaloe and I would have gone back into log-building,” Hooker said. “But now it’s been 40 years and we put away a nest egg.”a group of people walking in front of a building: There's still much work needed to reach the skateway's required 30-centimetre depth, its operations manager said Friday.

© Brian Morris/CBC There’s still much work needed to reach the skateway’s required 30-centimetre depth, its operations manager said Friday.

‘Hoping and praying’ for relaxed restrictions

Scott Shackell, the general manager of Dows Lake Pavilion — which includes two restaurants plus a skate and sleigh rental shop — said the return of rentals would be welcome. 

Their rentals were limited last year to offering snowshoes out of a parking booth.

“It might be a little slower than previous years,” Shackell said. “It’s really a tourist-driven season. Lots of people [would normally] come in from the states, northern Europe. That’s a big chunk of the rentals business. But there’s still a huge, huge portion of Ottawans that I’m sure will come out, given a lot of indoor recreation activities aren’t available right now.”

Shackell is also “hoping and praying” the province’s current ban on indoor dining will be lifted by Jan. 26. Otherwise, the pavilion’s restaurants would likely take a hit, he said.

“They are still open for takeout right now. But that’s a tough sell,” he said.

“It’s a lot easier to take your skates off and head into a warm venue for a bite to eat and a glass of wine than it is to sit and freeze your buns off outside on a bench, eating takeout.”

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