Work on the Skateway starts well before the skating season. In mid-October, Parks Canada drains the Rideau Canal by opening the sluice valves at the Ottawa Locks near Parliament Hill. The five change rooms, 35 sets of stairs, five universal access ramps and other Skateway structures are then installed. Beams are placed at the locks, and the water is raised to skating level. When the cold weather first arrives, the NCC allows nature to do its work. As the water in the canal begins to cool, it contracts and the level drops. Once the water reaches a uniform temperature of 4°C from surface to bottom, it begins to crystallize and expand. Because ice crystals are less dense than water, they rise to the surface, where they eventually form a frozen cap. Understanding the process of ice formation helps the NCC to create and maintain the ideal surface for skating.
Once a layer of ice has formed, the drilling team uses an ice auger to draw out core samples of the ice to measure its thickness and check its quality. When daily testing shows that the ice is a sufficient thickness of good quality for safe public skating, the green flags go up, and the 35 entrances to the Skateway are opened.
However, if the flags are red, stay off the ice!