Kichi Sibi Winter Trail beckons outdoor enthusiasts

A man wearing a bright orange shirt and bright green winter overalls poses for a photo with his red ATV
Groomer Dave Adams has been busy preparing the Kichi Sibi winter trail for what’s expected to be a busy season. Photo by Charlie Senack

By Charlie Senack

When Ottawa was dusted with its first snowfall Nov. 16, Dave Adams was out in the cold, grooming the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail.

The official trail season isn’t expected to begin until late December. But Adams, known to many as “Groomer Dave,” said work begins months ahead of time.

“We start preparing the trail in early September. There is a lot of dry-land preparation which we do when we have good weather,” he said. “We put up a lot of snow fences which require soft soil” to get them in place.

The 16-kilometre Trail was established in 2015, and has since been a snowy attraction for those looking to stay active during the colder months. It runs alongside the Ottawa River from Dominion Station to the Canadian War Museum, near Mill St. Brew Pub. 

Volunteers keep the trail groomed through the winter in partnership with Dovercourt Recreation Centre and the National Capital Commission (NCC). 

“The trail has always rooted itself as a multi-use winter pathway in an urban setting,” Adams said. “People go there to ski, bike, walk, or just get out. We groom the trail every day and we want to make it nice for whatever mode of active transportation you choose.”

The trail’s popularity has grown in recent years since its start as a pilot project. It became an escape for people who were dealing with cabin fever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with respiratory viruses plaguing the healthcare system and some people looking to limit indoor contact again, Adams expects another busy season. 

This year the Kichi Sibi Winter Trail wanted to incorporate the newly named Chief William Commanda Bridge (formally the Prince of Wales Bridge) into their network. The bridge is currently being turned into a multi-use pathway that will connect Ottawa and Gatineau. Adams hoped it could join the Kichi Sibi trail to bike paths across the river. 

But supply chain issues and labor shortages mean construction wasn’t completed this year, leading plans to be put on ice until next winter. 

“It will come in good time,” Adams said. “We will add it into our overall network when work on the bridge is completed, but until then the show goes on.”

Adams has also had the challenge of working around construction at Westboro Beach, which was scheduled for completion by the end of fall 2022. Construction fences remain around what is usually an important part of the winter trail.

“I think there might be some concessions made,” Adams said, but acknowledged such decisions were “really an NCC thing.”

In a statement the NCC told the Kitchissippi Times they “will be able to provide walking access from the underpass at Westboro Beach to the start of the trail.” They noted work at the pavilion and beach began this fall and is ongoing. Plans are still in place to provide beach access in summer 2023.

A skier wearing a red jacket, black pants and a face mask is seen up close on the winter trail on a sunny day
Locals enjoy the SJAM Winter Trail on a sunny day in February. File photo by Ellen Bond.

Originally known as the Sir John A. Macdonald Winter Trail, the pathway was renamed in 2021 after the original name became controversial. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, was one of the main architects behind Canada’s residential school system, where thousands of Indigenous children lost their lives.

Adams said he felt a need to change the name so Trail users felt comfortable. The Algonquin name Kichi Sibi means “Great River.”

Despite construction circumstances, Adams said the full length of the winter trail will be groomed as per usual – the same standard of grooming users have seen in previous years.

As to when there will be enough snow on the ground, Adams said it’s always unpredictable. 

“The weather has been all over the place,” he said. “Never question old man winter.”

Leave a comment