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Hugh Graham (left) and a fellow kick sledder, Jan. 2011. Photo: Lucy Martin
Hugh Graham (left) and a fellow kick sledder, Jan. 2011. Photo: Lucy Martin

Heard Up North: Hugh Graham, long-time canal fan

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Part of Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway opened for skating this past Sunday, kicking off its 42nd season. Once weather permits, nearly five miles of frozen canal will see heavy use for another month or two. The free skateway is a star attraction for Winterlude, coming up February 3-20. Sunday, just a short section was open, and the ice conditions were listed as poor.

Long time canal enthusiast Hugh Graham keeps a kick sled on hand for bad ice days. The sled looks like a light kitchen chair on long, thin runners. Wearing home-made studded boots, he can ride the runner with one foot, and push along at a good clip with the other. There's even room for some gear or a light passenger on the chair. Graham showed off his kick sled to Lucy Martin for today's Heard Up North.

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“My name is Hugh Graham, and I live in [the] Greenbank area of Ottawa," Graham began. "I've been skating since '77. I'm out here every day. I'm a long-blade skater, but when it's like this, I come out on the sled. The ice is not good at the moment, so I come out on this when it's not good – or when it's snowing, you know?”

“Is it hard to learn?” Lucy Martin asked of the kick sled.

“No.”

“Does it fit into your car pretty easily, or?”

“Yeah, it folds down, and it fits in quite easily," Graham responded. "Like I used to do the winter triathlons, but now I'm a little bit out of shape. We've had 100K here. I've been in those. And then they had an international event where they brought all the speed skaters from Europe – it was really a great event. And another time we simulated the skating on the canals in Holland. We went on the Ottawa River down to Cumberland and back, it was a 45 kilometer loop. That was only one time. The ice was very, very rough. The Dutch skaters seemed to be able to handle it good, you know? I only did one loop, 45 kilometers. I found it too rough. And – in some places, there was holes in the ice, where they had to have a guard to tell you 'Don't skate in this area, or you'll go through the ice'!"

"That sounds a little iffy, doesn't it?" Martin asked as she and Graham both chuckled.

"And I complain about the ice," Graham continued. "When, the early days, when the NCC workers used to look after it? The ice was more or less excellent, most of the time. And then they gave it over to a contractor."

"And you don't feel it's been maintained as well?" Martin asked.

"No, it's terrible now – in comparison," he responded. "And the way they're flooding this? Sometimes I think they are flooding it over the snow. They're not cleaning it, sometimes."

"I hear they do that to try and build ice," Martin said. "And it works for depth, but not for quality, is what I've understood."

"Yeah, it breaks down very quickly, when there's a lot of people out on the ice. But, can't complain too much [or] they might shut it down!” Graham said.

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