Last weekend, I had the fortune of spending my 21st birthday in a cold and snowy Ottawa, the capital of the True North, strong and free. It was at this time, under innumerable layers of clothing that I fulfilled my dream of skating on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site and the world’s largest ice rink.
Okay, I say skating but what I really mean is clinging desperately to M’s backpack, trying not to fall over – or at my bravest, standing awkwardly… but also trying not to fall over. I suppose I should admit that although I am an official Canadian, I don’t know how to skate.
I’ve been skating before of course, but it’s not until the very end of the session that I feel comfortable enough to pry myself away from the rinks edge; and then I don’t go skating again for another few years, when all acquired skill is forgotten. This is almost unheard of in Canada, a land where hockey (or ice hockey in the English tongue) is more of a religion that football (soccer) is in England. Canadians are born with skates on their feet. This was evident as I fumbled along the ice with infants zipped by me with a sense of bold confidence that can only be summoned as a child. Perhaps, like a language, skating is something best learnt young.
Despite my pathetic attempts to fit in, the experience was wonderfully enjoyable. As the first weekend the canal was declared safe for skating (and only parts of it at that), my excitement was mutually reflected in the faces of others. Stalls lined the canal edge selling winter warmers such as hot chocolate, apple cider and the Ottawa specialty of Beavertails, sugar coated pastries in the shape of – you guessed it – beaver tails.
The walk to where the canal was open (in our case, Patterson Creek) was a long one from the city center and the wind was harsh and dry (a biting -30) but not a thing I would change; for a winter holiday, I expected no less. The walk was pleasantly spaced with the discovery of Corktown bridge where the railings are covered with padlocks engraved with the names of lovers, past and present. Had M and I been aware, our names would have accompanied the others, looking over the canal and the memories of the day forever more. However, something tells me that regardless of a strength of padlock steel, this day and trip at large will not be forgotten.