Activities on the Assiniboine and Red rivers have given Winnipeggers a welcome respite from the isolation of the pandemic — but stretches of open water raise safety concerns anyone venturing onto the ice should be aware of.
From art installations and signs to curling rinks and skating trails, Winnipeggers have been going all out to make winter more bearable at a time when many people are feeling cooped up and pandemic restrictions severely limit recreational activities.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people could be seen enjoying the Centennial River Trail (monitored and maintained daily by The Forks), walking, skating, winter cycling and enjoying the warm afternoon sun.
Sandy Adelman says she takes a walk on the ice nearly every day, and usually finds the trail quite busy.
"It’s so beautiful. I’m usually out for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half. I live close to the river, but the upkeep seems to be greater this year. They’ve really seemed to beautify it and I’m not doing other things as much these days," Adelman said, walking along the ice among dozens of others.
However, on certain stretches of the rivers — particularly the Assiniboine past the Hugo Dock — open water poses serious safety concerns.
In 2020, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service responded to 249 ice and water rescue calls, up from 152 the previous year.
There have been recent incidents which demonstrate how quickly a recreational walk or skate can turn dangerous.
Late last month, Niki Card publicly warned Winnipeggers to be careful when venturing onto the ice, after her 14-year-old son unexpectedly crashed through the surface of the Seine River in John Bruce Park. He was uninjured.
On Jan. 10, multiple people took to social media to warn a dog had been lost after falling through the ice on the Assiniboine River, west of the Maryland Bridge.
A city spokeswoman said the WFPS did not have a record of responding to a call for a dog in need that day, but a call "may have come in as another type of call for assistance and been categorized accordingly."
The spokeswoman said when WFPS crews respond to calls for dangerous situations on the ice, they often put up scene tape to warn people to avoid certain spots.
It is something Adelman said she’s seen on her walks when adventuring west past the Hugo Dock.
"There are a few open spots over there but it’s safely marked out," Adelman said.
The City of Winnipeg "does not monitor ice conditions on rivers, waterways or ponds throughout the winter months," the city spokeswoman said. As a result, the city advises residents to "refrain from venturing on to any ice surface" during the winter, due to the possibility of "rapidly changing ice conditions based on weather, water currents (and) runoff."
That’s consistent with messaging from the Lifesaving Society of Manitoba, which warns "no ice is ever 100 per cent safe (and) if you go out on the ice, you need to be prepared to go through and into cold water at any time."
Roughly one-third of all drownings in Manitoba each year happen between October and April, according to the organization.
While colder weather is projected for Winnipeg next week, the city experienced an unseasonably warm autumn — in part due to deviations from regular "La Nina" patterns that bring cold air — which has led to sections of open water along the rivers.
That was the case Tuesday on the Assiniboine River near Sir John Franklin Park, where a handful of people could be seen beginning their afternoon skates within close proximity of a stretch of open water.
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