Rideau Hall skating rink gets facelift

Two iconic features of the Rideau Hall estate are getting refurbished for Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The upgraded Rideau Hall rink, the oldest continuously operated skating surface in North America, and the adjacent Dairy Building — which dates back to the 19th century but has received a 21st century facelift — will showcase the ongoing legacy of Ottawa’s vice-regal residence and its longstanding connection to the development of hockey and other winter sports in Canada. 

The National Capital Commission and the Governor General’s office partnered to transform the old Dairy Building into the Rideau Hall Winter Pavilion, which is one of seven Confederation Pavilions being unveiled as part of the country’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017.  

The NCC said it chose unique but under-used sites around Canada’s capital to shine a light on the country’s rich heritage. The pavilions are meant to be a special attraction for both residents of the Ottawa-Gatineau region and visitors to the capital next year. 

Nearly as old as Canada itself, the 121-year-old Dairy Building was relocated and refurbished to serve as a heated shelter for visitors to lace up their skates before gliding across the historic rink. 

The other six Confederation pavilions are located at historic Moore Farm in Gatineau, Strutt House — a modernist home built in 1956 in Gatineau Park —, the capital’s Global Centre for Pluralism at 330 Sussex Dr., Gatineau’s Charron House in partnership with L’Association des auteurs et auteurs de l’Outaousais, and 50 Sussex Dr., which is becoming a new Centre for Geography and Exploration. 7 Clarence St. and 50 Sussex Dr. will serve as the international pavilion, welcoming 13 diplomatic missions to celebrate the 150th. 

“Each one of them has its particular architecture and story,” said Luc Groulx, an NCC project advisor. “It’s about the inspiration that visitors can get from these buildings.”

The exhibit featured inside the Winter Pavilion will highlight both the restoration of the Dairy Building and the history of winter activity at Rideau Hall over the years, explained Christine MacIntyre, a Rideau Hall spokesperson. 

 “I really hope that Canadians take away a better understanding of our history because sometimes we don’t realize the impact that governor generals have to the development of our country.”

The exhibit, for example, showcases 19th-century governor general Lord Stanley of Preston, who donated the Stanley Cup; Adrienne Clarkson, who donated the Clarkson Cup to top-level women’s hockey in Canada; Lord Dufferin, who created the Rideau Hall rink in the 1870s; and Lord and Lady Minto, who donated Canadian lacrosse’s Minto Cup and held skating parties at Rideau Hall in the early 1900s.

Invitations from those early skating parties will be shown in the Dairy Building exhibit. 

Canada’s current Governor General David Johnston’s connection to winter sports is notable, too.

Johnston played hockey alongside future NHLers Tony and Phil Esposito in the Sault Ste. Marie under-17 hockey league in the 1950s before attending Harvard University, where he captained the varsity hockey team and was selected for the All-America team twice. 

Now 75, Johnston still keeps his skates by the back door. “He’s (on the rink) as often as he can be,” said MacIntyre. “The governor generals throughout our history have done everything they can to promote winter activity.”

For Canada’s 150th, more Canadians than ever before will be able to utilize the Rideau Hall rink. 

A refrigeration unit is being added to extend the length of the skating season from late January until late March. “For skaters, it’s going to offer them one of the most magical skating experiences in the capital,” said MacIntyre. 

The refrigerated portion will be installed in early January and once the restoration of the Dairy Building is finished by the end of December, the pavilion exhibition will be installed. Both the upgraded rink and the Dairy Building pavilion will officially open on Jan. 28.

The Dairy Building itself is one of the oldest buildings still in existence on Rideau Hall’s grounds. It was built in 1895 and is a recognized federal heritage building, valued for its design and historical associations. 

While the building has been utilized in a variety of ways — originally for the distribution of milk, and as an art gallery during the 1940s and ‘50s under former governor general Viscount Alexander of Tunis — it has been used for storage in recent years. 

Because the Dairy Building had no permanent use, the NCC took advantage of the chance to restore the building to create the pavilion.  

“We felt it was a great opportunity,” said Heather Thomson, the NCC’s heritage program manager. “It was a building (previously) used for utilitarian work, but its design is quite interesting.” 

The building is an octagonal-shaped structure with wood paneling and its previous white colour is now a freshly painted wine red. The top of the building is cone shaped with triangular windows on each side.

Aside from a new entranceway being added, the defining design of the building will remain. The building is being taken apart in sections and moved to its new position on the edge of the rink before being restored and rearranged. At capacity, it will accommodate 50 people.

 “It’s a reflection of the history and the evolution of this property,” said MacIntyre. “The fact that it can find a new life in creating a space for skaters to warm up and learn about the history of Rideau Hall over the last 150 years — I don’t think there could be a better marriage of the two things together.” 

Produced in collaboration with iPolitics.