Egan: ‘Banned’ Mooney’s Bay hill made safer after fatal sledding accident

“The hill at Mooney’s Bay is part of the landscape of the park and is not a sledding hill.”

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Hours after a 10-year-old girl died in a sledding accident Monday, a City of Ottawa crew arrived, in a gently falling snow, to remove potentially-dangerous obstacles from the bottom of the hill at Mooney’s Bay Park.


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They wore masks and fluorescent vests and hard hats — safety first, of course — and proceeded, with an orange backhoe, to rip about a dozen metal posts out of the ground, in groupings of two or three, about 30 metres apart.

Technically called a U-channel, the posts were holding up signs along a walking path, reminding users to recycle in the right bin and noting where “dog waste” was accepted.

No one was prepared Tuesday to say — officially — the 10-year-old had slid down the steep hill and struck a metal post, but this newspaper has learned city staff believe this is exactly what happened. (This confirmation came from a city   source not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.)

In response, the posts were removed about 20 hours later, hay bales were placed in strategic locations and other (immovable) obstacles were wrapped in protective foam.


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In a statement, the city said Mooney’s Bay was closed as a sledding hill in 2017 and a sign at the top warns of “Extreme Danger” that could result in serious injury or death. (The warning had limited effect: empty beer cans, vodka shot bottles, lost gloves, tossed masks, broken bits of sleds, many signs of human gathering, could be found up and down the hill.)

A sign warning of the dangers of sliding at the Mooney’s Bay Park hill where a 10-year-old girl died in a sledding accident Monday.
A sign warning of the dangers of sliding at the Mooney’s Bay Park hill where a 10-year-old girl died in a sledding accident Monday. Photo by Errol McGihon /POSTMEDIA

“The hill at Mooney’s Bay is part of the landscape of the park and is not a sledding hill,” reads a reply from parks and recreation general manager Dan Chenier.

“It was closed as a sledding hill in 2017 due to hazards on-site, including trees, the Rideau River, the Terry Fox Athletic Facility, a parking lot and other obstacles (such as cross-country skiers using the nearby trail).”


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The problem, of course, is that residents continued to use it for tobogganing and the city knows it. Locals say a nice winter day would attract dozens of sledders to the hill, sign or no sign.

It is neither clear whether the city was able to even attempt to enforce the 25-person COVID-limit that came into effect Boxing Day for hills and rinks.

It is a shocking turn of events. This is Canada, in winter. People aren’t supposed to die tobogganing, especially innocent children.

(Published studies have the number of sledding fatalities in Ontario at about one per year — almost always a head injury — with hospitalizations in the range of 75. Skiing, hockey, even walking, result in many, many more injuries per winter season.)


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Noted University of Ottawa criminologist Justin Piché just happened to be walking by Tuesday, taking his two children to the elaborate play structure at the bottom of the hill (which is roughly about the height of a six-to-eight-storey building).
“I was shocked,” he said. “I just took my two young kids tobogganing on another hill in the neighbourhood yesterday afternoon.”

He said taking out the obstacles “is one thing,” but wondered about young people, similar to summer lifeguards, who might monitor things on the hill during busy sledding periods.

“My heart goes out to the girl’s parents, family and friends. Hopefully the community and the city will provide support to them and take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this from taking place in the future.”


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The city, “out of an abundance of caution,” is closing the parking lot closest to the hill, is patrolling the area this week to ensure no-sledding rule compliance and has put up a large “No Sledding” sign at the entrance.

It has pledged to co-operate with a police investigation, on which there was no update Tuesday.

The statement said the city has 58 “sanctioned” toboggan hills that have undergone risk inspections and have signage to help people use the runs safely.

City of Ottawa crews removed sign posts Tuesday.
City of Ottawa crews removed sign posts Tuesday. Photo by Errol McGihon /POSTMEDIA

The city now finds itself in a curious, if not untenable, position. It banned sledding on the hill, then couldn’t enforce the ban; faced with a fatality, it has now made “illegal” sledding safer; it doesn’t really have the staff to enforce pandemic crowd restrictions; yet it encourages everyone to exercise in winter, especially school children in their Christmas off-week.

(I was reminded of the Prince of Wales bridge situation, officially closed but well used, sometimes with tragic results, like drownings.)

We may yet, too, hear a revival of the debate about helmet-only rules for young sledders.

But, immediately, none of that seems to matter. A child went sledding two days after Christmas, in a lovely white landscape overlooking a river, and never came home.

And today, and a world of tomorrows, there is no fixing that.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-291-6265 or email



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