Rideau CanalWinter in Ottawa is cold. The weather office just informed me that the wind chill over the next day will bring temperatures down to a frightening -35 degrees. But we’ve all learned to dress for the worst. And the people at City Hall and the NCC appear to be doing what they can to distract us from bitterly cold truth.

This weekend I took advantage of their most well-known winter diversion — skating on the canal. I know it’s not exactly a hidden gem, but there are few things I love more about Ottawa than those 7.8km of ice.

Word to the wise — save a couple bucks by getting your skates sharpened before on your way to the canal at a shop like Foster’s Sports on Bank & MacLaren ($5+tax). You’ll also avoid competing for attention with those renting skates on the canal (which, incidentally, cost $16/2hours).

But the canal isn’t the only winter fun to be had on the government’s dime. The City runs hundreds of outdoor ice rinks all across Greater Ottawa where you can play a game of shinny or just go for a leisurely skate under the stars with your beau or belle, New York City-style. These rinks vary from small ponds to full outdoor rinks and are all maintained by the city. You can find out where your closest rink is here and get updates on its ice conditions here.

If you’re looking to join a game of pickup hockey near Centretown, your best bet seems to be the rinks at Brewer Park near Dow’s Lake at 210 Hopewell. You might also check out Jack Purcell Park on Frank St. between Metcalfe and Elgin (by the Elgin Street Diner), Plouffe Park on Preston south of Somerset, and McNabb Park at 160 Percy. All of these rinks have full boards and lights.

The City also maintains a clutch of sledding hills.

And if you’re looking to do some cross-country skiing (and, for whatever reason, you can’t get up to Gatineau Park) you can check out the Mooney’s Bay Ski Center. It’s not free, but at $2.50, it might as well be.

Just don’t forget your toque. Minus 35 is no joke.