BeaverTails taking down canal kiosks
Plagued by weather, at times too warm and too cold, Winterlude ended this year without seeing its star attraction — the Rideau Canal Skateway — open.
The festival also had its ice carving competition delayed because of extreme cold during its first weekend, only to have the sculptures begin to melt in the warm weather days later. Some on-ice events, like the Dragon Boat race at Mooney's Bay were cancelled, while others were adapted or moved to refrigerated rinks.
Ottawa Tourism says it saw stronger hotel bookings in this year's second weekend than it did the last time the festival was in-person in 2020, but admitted it was "disappointing" to see the "huge draw" not open for the first time in the festival's history.
Grant Hooker's co-founder of BeaverTails Inc., was more than disappointed.
"Business on the Rideau Canal Skateway has been god awful," he said.
"There is no business. Zero."
Hooker said the company is set to take down three of the four kiosks on the canal — at the National Arts Centre, Dows Lake and Concord — after they had already stood empty for months. It's leaving one by Fifth Avenue, just in case.
'A losing proposition'
According to Hooker, it cost about $50,000 to install the four kiosks, prepare equipment and hire and train staff in time for the season.
Now, he said he faces an additional cost of $10,000 to $15,000 to take three of those kiosks down.
"That's just a total loss. And then there's all those lost sales that would have come our way had the skateway opened," he said.
"You don't have to be an accountant to say it's a losing proposition from the canal this year."
Hooker added that BeaverTails' on-land kiosks have made more money than usual, but those returns are a fraction of the income the company would see coming from the on-ice kiosks during a normal winter.
Still, the company is depending on that revenue to "keep us alive, keep us ready to come back next year," he said.
Hooker said, the increased on-land sales have been thanks, in part, to Winterlude festivities.
And there were plenty of alternative land-based activities for people to participate in, according to Melanie Brault, a spokespeson for Canadian Heritage, which organizes Winterlude.
"It's really been a great, big party on Sparks street for the last three weekends," said Brault.
Still, she said, "We cannot deny that the Rideau Canal Skateway is an iconic piece of Winterlude."
The annual winter festival wrapped up on Family Day with skating at Rideau Hall and refrigerated rinks at Lansdowne and city hall as well as a final free concert at the Rainbow Bistro in the ByWard Market.
Skateway 'missed' at festival
Anuj Bhargava, who was at the Rink of Dreams with his family, said he was looking forward to getting a BeaverTail after skating at a land-based kiosk just outside City Hall on Monday.
Still, he said, his daughter missed being able to get out onto the canal this year.
"It's a little sad," he said.
Patrick Kavanaugh said he recently moved to Ottawa, and had been looking forward to skating on the canal for months.
"I really boasted about it before we moved here," he said. "I was like, 'we got the canal, the longest skating rink in the world', and we really haven't been able to do that so it's a little disappointing."
"I really hope this is an anomaly," he said.
The Rideau Canal Skateway remains closed for the time-being.
Last week, the NCC said it would provide an update mid-week this week.