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Skating Party at Rideau Hall

Only one skating scene, where Inspector MacNutt puts on his skates to cool off after a chance encounter with Mrs. Ramsey, made it into my novel. I had to delete a second scene where Katherine MacNutt and Count Jaggi meet at a skating party at Rideau Hall, the home of the governor general.

In 1916, receiving an invitation to a skating and tobogganing party at Rideau Hill was highly prized. It meant that you had reached the pinnacle of the Ottawa social scene.

The Duke of Connaught had continued the tradition of winter parties that his predecessors such as Governor General Dufferin began. Dufferin, a winter sport enthusiast, had at his own expense built a skating rink, a curling rink, and a toboggan run at Rideau Hall. 

There were at least two toboggan runs at Rideau Hall. These were elaborate wooden structures with flights of stairs for the riders to climb back up after each run. In the late 1800s to early 1900s tobogganing was a popular sport in Canada. There was even a toboggan run built beside the Château Laurier. The Montreal Tobogganing Club, formed in 1881, had organized competitive toboggan events. Tobogganing was so popular in Toronto that the local clergy sought to ban the sporting activity on Sundays.

Governor General  Dufferin and party on the Toboggan slide

While the toboggan runs no longer exist at Rideau Hall or at the Château Laurier, the skating tradition continues. The skating rink at the governor general’s residence is open to the public during the winter months. When the rink was first built it was made available to the general public as long as skaters were properly dressed. Governor General Minto and his wife founded the Minto Skating Club in 1904. The club continues to produce world class skaters. The membership was composed of 15 gentlemen and a few lady associates. Ladies were later allowed to join as full members.

Also, skating parties were held on the Ottawa River, which was and still is highly dangerous. It was common for skaters to fall through thin ice and drown. This happened to a close friend of William Lyon Mackenzie King, a Henry Harper. Harper attempted to rescue a young woman, Elizabeth Blair, who had fallen through the ice. Both drowned. King was mainly responsible for erecting the Sir Galahad stature on Wellington Street, in front of Parliament Hill, in memory of his friend.

Skating was an important social event at the local Ottawa rinks where elaborate costume parties were held and musical bands such as the 77th Battalion’s Musical Band regularly provided musical accompaniment for the skaters.

Tobogganing and skating continue to be popular sports in Ottawa. For the last 35 years, the Winterlude festival has been held for three weeks in January and February to celebrate winter. You can skate on the world’s longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal.

Sources and further readings



Tobogganing on Mount Royal - Westend Times - Montreal's Newspaper | Independently owned weekly English newspaper

Canadian Icons - History of The Toboggan

Historicist: Worshipping in the Open Air | news | Torontoist

Winter Sports and the Governor Generals

Field Marshall His Royal Highness the Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn

The Earl of Derby (Lord Stanley of Preston)

The Earl of Minto

The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava