Recent studies have shown that ice duration in lakes and rivers over the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the 19th and 20th centuries in response to global warming. However, lake ice trends have not been well documented in Canada. Because of its size, considerable variability may exist in both freeze-up and break-up dates across the country. In this paper, results of the analysis of recent trends (1951–2000) in freeze-up and break-up dates across Canada are presented. Trends toward earlier break-up dates are observed for most lakes during the time periods of analysis which encompass the 1990s. Freeze-up dates, on the other hand, show few significant trends and a low degree of temporal coherence when compared with break-up dates. These results are compared with trends in autumn and spring 0 °C isotherm dates over the time period 1966–95. Similar spatial and temporal patterns are observed, with generally significant trends toward earlier springs/break-up dates over most of western Canada and little change in isotherm and freeze-up dates over the majority of the country in autumn. Strong correlations (r > 0·5) between 0 °C isotherm dates and freeze-up/break-up dates at many locations across the country reveal the high synchrony of these variables. These results are also consistent with more recent observations of other cryospheric and atmospheric variables that indicate, in particular, a general trend toward earlier springs in the latter part of the 20th century. The results of this study provide further evidence of the robustness of lake ice as a proxy indicator of climate variability and change. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.