The Parliament Hill ice rink: how much would it cost to have it all winter?

An ice rink on Parliament Hill strikes me as a cool idea. It’s happening from December 07 to 31st as part of the #Canada150 celebrations. I’ll be in Ottawa for the holidays and look forward to checking it out. Out of curiosity, I decided to estimate how the costs would grow if we extend its time on the Hill.

Canada150 ice rink

Canada150 ice rink

Given the significant effort it takes to create the rink, why not keep it longer?

My first reaction was to wonder why Ottawa wouldn’t keep the ice rink until Winterlude. It’s a festival of outdoors winter activities: seems like a good fit? An extension to the end of Winterlude (Feb.2 to Feb.19) would mean 75 days of use instead of 25: tripling the useable time.

Apparently I’m not alone in wondering about this. Politicians, journalists, and plenty of Canadians have been voicing opinions about the project. At least, that’s what my Facebook and Twitter feeds tell me.

In the Toronto Star a couple days ago (here), Conservative MP Gerard Deltell suggested keeping it open all winter. Yesterday, Minister Joly said it will be extended to the end of February (tweet announcement, Toronto Star article).

This post sets out to estimate how the costs change as we extend the ice rink’s time on Parliament Hill.

What’s the right balance between cost and use?

Canadian Heritage gave the Toronto Star this break down of the $5.6 million total cost:

  • $2.375 million for design & construction
  • $1.3 million  for marketing and a youth hockey tournament (travel & hotels)
  • $1.9 million1 for labour and operations (daily use)

How would the total cost change if we extend the rink later into the winter?

Some costs are fixed. We spend the same to design, construct, and move the rink at the end whether we keep it open on Parliament Hill for a weekend or the entire winter. Clearly, using it only for a weekend is absurd. That works out to nearly $2 million per day of use!

I also consider the youth hockey tournament a fixed cost. If we extend the rink’s time on the Hill for the public, this cost stays the same.

So there is $3.7 million in fixed costs.

Other costs scale with time. If we keep the rink longer, we incur greater costs.

I assume the $1.9 million across 25 days represents the operational costs that would increase if the rink is kept at the Hill longer.2 This means the ice rink roughly costs $77k for every day it is kept open. Frankly, that seems high, but those are the best numbers we’ve been given so far by the government.

Based on this, I estimate the total cost of the rink would increase from $5.6 million for 25 days of use to $9.5 million if it were extended through Winterlude. If it were extended to the end of March, as suggested by Gerard Delutt, the amount of days would quadruple but the total cost would double ($12.5 million).

Total cost estimate: (click to enlarge)

Total cost = fixed costs + (number of days) * (additional costs/day)

Total cost of the Parliament Hill ice rink

Total cost of the Parliament Hill ice rink (my estimate)


Another way to look at how much value we get for the cost is to look at the total cost divided by the total number of days the rink will be open. It makes sense to keep it open for a while since it takes millions to build it.

Daily cost = Total cost / total number of days open

The Toronto Star described the daily cost of the ice rink to be $215k. But that value depends on how long the rink is kept on the Hill. (They also use 26 days instead of 25.)

Daily cost estimate: (click to enlarge)

Cost per day of the Parliament Hill ice rink

Cost per day of the Parliament Hill ice rink (my estimate)

(Note the first week of values are so high they are cut off. Clearly not a good option.)

What is an efficient length of time to keep it, since we’ve decided to build it?

To me, Winterlude is the winner.

If we keep the rink longer than that, the total cost increases, but the daily cost remains very similar. This strikes me as a reasonable balance to get good use from the rink.

What do you think is the right balance?


Disclaimer/note: These calculations are rough estimates. I aim to transparently interpret the numbers provided by Canadian Heritage to the Toronto Star. I’m interested to see how the real costs turn out.

End notes:

1 The Toronto Star’s article says the rink was originally scheduled for 26 days of use. I use 25 days because the official rink website says the rink is open December 07 to December 31 for the public. It doesn’t make a significant impact on the analysis. (see screenshot below)

2 There seems to be a lot of staff involved in this rink. Far beyond a typical ice rink. There are definitely unanswered questions about why this rink is so expensive. But that’s not what this post is about…

Canada150 rink screenshot

Canada150 rink screenshot showing original open dates


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