Now well within Old Man Winter’s icy grasp, many residents of the nation’s capital embrace our consistently cold weather with the thrills of ice skating, skiing or other winter activities throughout the region. However, these winter activities seem to pale in comparison with the daredevil style of winter activities enjoyed by Ottawa’s past residents . . . back when their winter activities bordered on the downright dangerous.
The year was 1922 and Ottawa was preparing for the first ever Canadian National Winter Carnival, a week-long celebration of winter that started on January 28 and included such attractions as giant skating rinks and a 66 foot-high Norman castle replicated in ice blocks. Perhaps the most unbelievable highlight of this Winter Carnival was a ridiculously steep ice slide beside the Chateau Laurier. Dubbed “The Slide for a Mile,” this ice-covered wooden structure would take brave riders who paid ten cents to careen down an icy chute at speeds reaching 100 kilometres an hour, before they were rocketed out onto the frozen Ottawa River underneath the Alexandra Bridge.
As Ottawa celebrates Canada’s 150th birthday, the spirit of this hair-raising ride beside the Chateau Laurier is being resurrected in the form of the “Red Bull ‘Crashed Ice” event set for March 3 and 4. Helmeted and padded ice skaters will plummet down a massive ice track, filled with dips and hairpin turns, reaching speeds of up to 80 km/h. As dangerous as this sounds, remember that Ottawans in 1922 rocketed down an ice chute on a slab of wood without any safety gear. As the saying goes, “Times sure have changed!”