An outdoor children’s hockey tournament — one of the primary justifications for building a $4.3-million hockey rink on Parliament Hill — has just been cancelled because it’s too cold in Ottawa.
Hockey on the Hill, touted as the centrepiece of the Canada 150 Rink, is instead being played on some of Ottawa’s permanent indoor rinks.
“Due to the excessive cold, ice conditions will not allow for the games to be safely played outdoors at the Canada 150 Rink,” wrote tournament organizers in a Wednesday tweet.
On both Wednesday and Thursday, Ottawa was subject to an extreme cold warning. Temperatures dipped below -20 C, with wind chill making it seem as low as -35.
The Canada 150 rink, first opened Dec. 6, was roundly criticized for explicitly banning hockey on its surface. A series of strict rules, in fact, banned “figure skating,” “racing” and “hockey sticks and/or pucks.”
The only exception was to be Hockey on the Hill, when the rink would be closed to public skating and set aside for a tournament of peewee hockey teams flown in from across Canada.
Fireworks explode above Centre Block’s Peace Tower as skaters look on from the Canada 150 ice rink during the illumination launch ceremony of Christmas Lights Across Canada on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
Those teams — 32 of them in all — have indeed been flown to Ottawa and put up in hotels, but they will instead be playing at indoor facilities. If they want, however, players will be able to take a token skate on the rink.
“Canada 150 teams travelling from across the country will be provided an opportunity to skate on the Canada 150 Rink when their schedule permits,” reads a tweet by the Bell Capital Cup.
The rink itself cost $4.3 million, with some of that expense attributable to a specialized cooling system that is currently irrelevant, given the temperature. Another $1.3 million was put towards the logistics of Hockey on the Hill.
The program chose 16 girls’ and 16 boys’ peewee teams from regions across Canada. They were then taken to the capital at government expense to play in a special Canada 150 division of the Bell Capital Cup.
When the federal government faced criticism for the surprising expense of the rink, Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly used the coming tournament to justify the project.
The minister said the rink would “support important programming for communities and children.” In early November, in response to criticism from Conservative MP Peter Van Loan, she told the House of Commons that it was “a place where people in Ottawa and from across the country could engage and have fun.”
If temperatures rise before New Year’s Eve, the Canada 150 division may still play its championship games on Parliament Hill.
The late-December shutout due to cold weather is only the latest episode in the saga of the multimillion-dollar rink.
It was initially heavily criticized because it was to be open for only three weeks in December. In the face of pressure, however, Joly ordered the rink to remain open until February.
“There was obviously a desire to have it open longer so people from across the country could come and have this experience,” she told The Canadian Press in late November.
While the cold snap has devastated skating plans for the Canada 150 rink, it has been a boon to another outdoor Ottawa ice rink: the Rideau Canal Skateway. The frozen Rideau Canal, located only a short walk from Parliament Hill, holds the record as the world’s largest skating rink.
The recent spate of low temperatures is helping to build the canal’s ice surface, ensuring an earlier-than-expected opening date.