Horse racing on the Rideau Canal kickstarted first Winterlude – Ottawa


At the first Winterlude in 1979, it was more than skaters and Beavertails out on the Rideau Canal.

Trotting horses raced up and down the ice in a competition people are remembering at this year’s event.

A special ice sculpture at Winterlude pays tribute to the event that ran from 1979 until 1985 and featured quarter-mile horse races on the ice.

Bill Galvin founded the Trotting on the Rideau harness races, and told CBC Radio’s All in a Day that the event was a real spectacle.

“The atmosphere was electric. Tthe people, they lined the banks of the canal for a mile, three and four and five deep,” he said. “It was exciting.”

A look back at harness racing on the Rideau Canal1:21

Galvin said that even a young Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took in the event.

“His father Pierre Trudeau, he brought his three sons down. And they all enjoyed it immensely,” he recalled.

Galvin was active in the harness racing community and knew the history of harness racing both on the Ottawa River and the canal.

He said 1979 wasn’t  even the first time horses were on the canal: Lt.-Col. John By, founder of the original settlement of Bytown, had organized races to celebrate the canal’s opening.

“They came from all over North America to race on the canal, because of the very smooth surface,” Galvin said.

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