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In Ottawa, it's been too warm to skate on world's longest naturally frozen rink

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

One of Canada's treasured winter traditions is ice skating through downtown Ottawa on the Rideau Canal. Right in the heart of Canada's capital, it's the longest naturally frozen skating rink in the world. Or it's supposed to be. This year, it hasn't been cold enough to freeze. North Country Public Radio's Lucy Grindon reports.

LUCY GRINDON, BYLINE: Some people are still holding out hope that the canal will open for skating this year. Bruce Devine is the senior manager of facilities and programs for Canada's National Capital Commission. He's in charge of the team of workers who get the canal ready for skaters. When it's cold enough, they pour water over the ice that's already on the canal, so it'll freeze and make the ice thicker.

BRUCE DEVINE: We're still - we're very positive. You see, last week we had -40, -29, so we water it every evenings. And so it's - we've got some good ice, but it's not skateable at the moment.

GRINDON: He says he misses skating on the canal.

DEVINE: The joy of seeing all the smiles on people's face, enjoying their time and others learning how to skate. And it's a great feeling to be out there and see the immensity of the ice and how long it is.

GRINDON: They're working hard to try to get at least one section of the canal opened up before winter is over. But Devine says the canal usually closes by late February or early March, so time is running out. For now, people have to settle for artificial rinks, like the one on the plaza right outside Ottawa City Hall. Julia Daniel is here giving her friend Nikita Nineza a lesson.

JULIA DANIEL: You might want to lean on one foot, and then go out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE SCRAPING)

GRINDON: Two of their other friends are zooming right behind them. One guy stumbles. He grabs the other guy's arm. And...

(LAUGHTER)

GRINDON: They land right on top of each other. The canal is just steps away. You can see the tops of its walls from the rink. This kind of fun skating action should be happening there.

ALEX JONES: I feel like it's kind of, like, a Canadian bucket list item, and I came all this way to not do it because it's a record-breaking year. I'm so sad.

GRINDON: That's Alex Jones. They came all the way from the Northwest Territory for a national climate conference. And one of their friends who's from Ontario really sold them on this Canadian dream.

JONES: Skating along the canal, there's the warming huts. You can buy a beaver tail. I had visions of, you know, double-fisting beaver tail in one hand, hot chocolate in the other hand, just skating the full 7 1/2 kilometers or so of the canal.

GRINDON: For the uninitiated, a beaver tail is a flat piece of hot fried dough covered in sugar. Skating the canal was actually one of the planned activities for the climate conference, but the canal didn't freeze enough, as it has every other winter since 1971 when it was opened for skating for the first time. Jones has given up on it this winter.

JONES: It's not going to be thick enough. It's not going to freeze.

GRINDON: But at least one part of the Ottawa winter fantasy can still come true.

Oh, my God. (Laughter).

JONES: Fried dough, right?

GRINDON: Oh, my God. It's so good.

JONES: It's where it's at.

GRINDON: The beaver tail. We'll always have fried dough. For NPR News, I'm Lucy Grindon in Ottawa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lucy Grindon (Report for America Corps Member)