By Alana Thoman and David Sagolj
Bowing to a public backlash against two highly unpopular decisions about major downtown projects overseen by her department, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has reversed earlier pronouncements that would have ended the Parliament Hill skating season on Jan. 1 and closed the new National Holocaust Monument for the entire winter.
Joly announced on Nov. 23 that the first-ever rink built on the lawn in front of the Parliament Buildings — which cost $5.6 million and is set to open on Dec 7. as a grand finalé to the country’s Canada 150 celebrations — will now remain open until Feb. 28.
The decision, issued by Joly via Twitter, came in response to a wave of complaints and widespread ridicule after the Department of Canadian Heritage said the rink — its use subject to a litany of rules mocked as forbidding any fun — would stay open for only about three weeks at a cost of more than $200,000 per day.
Only days earlier, on Nov. 17, Joly had also tweeted she was scrapping an initial, much-criticized decision that the new, $8-million Holocaust memorial at LeBreton Flats would be shut down during the winter months for fear that snow-clearing operations could damage the structure and its interpretive components.
Instead, according to the NCC, although much of the memorial will remain off-limits due to snow accumulation, “part of the main level of the Monument will be cleared this winter … to provide residents and visitors year-round access to the interpretation panels and views of the murals.”
The public use of the rink, located on East Block side of the Hill, is billed as a showcase attraction for New Year’s Eve and the last official activity marking Canada’s 150th birthday.
The high price tag for the rink was due to assembly, maintenance and other costs associated with planned events, including public skating sessions and the Bell Capital Cup—a hockey tournament for youth aged 9-13 from all over the world.
It isn’t clear yet what additional costs will be incurred to keep the rink open for two additional months.
There will be stringent rules in place when the rink opens. Skaters will not be permitted to use hockey sticks, pucks or cell phones, and no food or beverages will be allowed on the ice surface. Rink users will also be prohibited from figure skating, and only those wearing skates will be allowed on the ice.
Those planning to attend public skating times must book their tickets online 48 hours in advance. Skaters are restricted to a 40-minute skate and tickets for each date are only available for purchase two days in advance.
There will also be a six-ticket maximum for each person at a time.
The rink is large enough to hold 200 people at a time, and will be open weekdays between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. and weekends between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. — but only when there are no scheduled events on the rink.
Skaters are expected to arrive at least 45 minutes ahead of their booked session.