A psychedelic mammoth, magical trolls, and a tribute to a St. Albert volunteer have come to Edmonton this week as the Deep Freeze festival sweeps through town.
The 15th annual Deep Freeze winter festival opened Jan. 14 at various locations in Edmonton. The free annual event is a celebration of winter and a fundraiser for the Arts on the Ave Edmonton Society.
Like last year, this year’s free 10-day event has been spread out across multiple locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said general manager Christy Morin. There are ice sculptures and enormous paper lanterns at Borden Park; musical acts at The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse; trappers, tipis, and an ice slide at Pipon Village; and the Edmonton Short Film Festival at St. Faith’s Anglican Church.
“Our theme this year is ‘Under the Ancient Arctic Sky,’” Morin said, which explains the chilly theme to this year’s sculptures.
St. Albert’s Barry Collier and his fellow ice carvers were hustling to assemble that aforementioned ice slide when The Gazette visited them Jan. 14. The blazing sun and 5 to 8 C weather had made it impossible to carve and stick ice blocks together for most of the previous week, so they had to make up for lost time.
Collier and his team still managed to create a cavalcade of cryogenic crystalline creatures in time for the event’s opening, including a woolly mammoth, a walrus, several bears, and a sabretooth tiger.
“We also have a sabretooth salmon,” Collier said — a prehistoric fish that measures about three metres long and has fangs sticking out of its snout.
“There is such a creature!” he said, laughing.
“I didn’t realize that until Monday!”
Morin said the idea for Deep Freeze started about 16 years ago when a group of artists was grumbling about winter at The Carrot.
“As we started talking about why we don’t enjoy the winter, we started talking about why we do enjoy winter,” Morin said, which led to the idea to hold a winter festival.
Morin said the first Deep Freeze was a one-day event in 2008 at the Alberta Avenue Community League Hall, and featured ice sculptures, perogies, and about a thousand guests. They themed the event around the Byzantine Empire due to that culture’s link to the arts and the event’s proximity to the Ukrainian New Year (which is observed on Jan. 14).
In later years, the event grew to become a multi-day affair that covered a long stretch of 118th Avenue. Collier, who joined the festival in 2010, said he could remember being surrounded by hundreds of people during past events as he carved giant eagles from huge blocks of ice in the middle of the street.
One thing that hasn’t changed about Deep Freeze is the challenging weather, Morin said.
“We’ve had all the way from -40 and all the way to plus 12 and 14,” she said, but the event’s participants have always pulled through with creativity and teamwork.
Around for many of those challenges was St. Albert resident Allison Argy-Burgess, who served as a producer lead for Deep Freeze for six years. Burgess died in August. Morin said Collier would carve an ice sculpture in her memory at this year’s festival.
Collier had yet to start on the Argy-Burgess tribute when he spoke to The Gazette, but said it would resemble a stained-glass window with a portrait of her in the middle.
Most of the sculptures wrought by Collier and his team are in Borden Park (11020 75A Street). As the park has no streetlamps, it is lit solely by the lights shone on the sculptures plus a handful of paper lanterns, the latter of which dapple the snow with rainbow-coloured hues.
Guests at Borden can expect to see glowing sculptures of salmon-eating bears leaping out of the darkness, as well as an eerie man-sized rainbow moth hovering in the distance. Looming large over them all is an enormous paper lantern woolly mammoth, whose colour-changing eyes and tusks wouldn’t look out of place in an ice-aged disco hall.
As usual, the festival also includes many acts and exhibits celebrating Ukrainian, Indigenous, and other cultures. Guests at The Carrot can take in musical acts by performers such as Métis fiddle legend Calvin Vollrath, who will also take part in a "Kitchen Party” concert with three other Canadian fiddlers Jan. 22.
“This year it’s going to be a real kitchen party around a real kitchen table,” Morin noted, as it’s taking place in an actual kitchen.
Kids young and old can take part in freezer races, rearrange a winter scene made from repurposed blankets and sweaters, chat with a family of magical Scandinavian trolls, take pictures, watch fireworks, or simply roast marshmallows around a fire in Borden Park. Guests can also learn new skills through in-person and virtual workshops, including a Métis finger-weaving session by Calahoo’s Celina Loyer.
Deep Freeze runs until Jan. 23. Guests must provide proof of vaccination QR codes for events at The Carrot and keep cohorts at least two metres (one musk oxen) apart for outdoor ones. Check deepfreezefest.ca for times and locations.