Deep Freeze Festival
Saturday, Jan. 11 from 12 noon to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
90 to 94 Street and 118 Avenue
Free – donations accepted
This Saturday and Sunday, a plundering horde of mead-swigging Viking sea raiders will overrun the seventh annual Deep Freeze Festival.
Yes, this year the theme is Vikings and curiosity is at an all-time high. Will they appear as hulking, intrepid adventurers wielding broadswords? Or in our romanticized notion of this bloody age, will they show up as a caricature of the animated Hagar, the Horrible, a scruffy, overweight, henpecked horned Viking?
"We're so excited about this particular theme. The images are so strong. They're so mysterious and mystical, and they are so connected to Canada's history," says artistic director Christy Morin.
Deep Freeze organizers have once again programmed staple events for Saturday's francophone celebrations and Sunday's Ukrainian salute – dance, mummers' plays, theatrical presentations, art shows, music, ethnic foods, street hockey, skating, games and, snow and ice sculptures.
In a special nod to fearless Viking warriors, Odin's Ravens, a historical re-enactment group based in Edmonton, is building a temporary Norse encampment.
Odin's Ravens, a family-oriented organization, focuses on living history exhibitions and combat displays from the ninth to 11th centuries.
"They'll bring a blacksmith, make fires, cook food, sing and fight with swords," Morin explains.
Scandinavian snow sculptors Edith van de Wetering and Wilfred Steijger, who in 2013 created a stunning carriage for a western theme, return to sculpt two breathtaking Viking forms springing from the Earth.
"They look like two gigantic Vikings breaking out from middle-Earth. They're about eight to 10 feet high and about 12 to 14 feet long."
St. Albert's own Barry Collier, founder of Ice Works, has organized the ice sculpting and ice activities. One of two ice sculptures that magically appear to freeze time is the traditional ice bar shaped like a Viking long boat with a ferocious dragonhead post.
"The boat is the bar and the dragon will have an ice luge. You can pour the drinks and they will come out of the mouth," explains Collier.
The main ice sculpture will be a 10-foot high raging dragon with extended wings battling a Viking warrior. The dazzling sculpture requires 16 to 18 ice blocks. Each block is 40 by 20 by 10 inches and weighs 275 pounds.
As an exceptional art form, it involves grueling physical labour in a delicate balancing act with precision artistry.
"If the weather holds up like it is, we're hoping to have 90 per cent done by Thursday," Collier notes.
The first step is making a level base. Blocks are cut in half, smoothed, sanded and frozen together with the simple layer of water. Then the next layers are added one at a time.
"I do worry about the ice cracking. When you add water, which is warmer than the ice, it cracks a bit and you get a lot of snap, crackle, pop."
Using a variety of chainsaws, sculptors' chisels and die grinders, Collier has developed enough expertise to know just how much to push the ice.
"Less thinking is better. I can see what the product is going to be so I take away the excess ice. I never overthink it. It'll take its form. It always does."
People of all ages are in awe of ice sculptures, falling under their seemingly enchanted spell.
"The dragon is larger than life. Where else can you see it? When you see something of that scale it's huge and then it's gone. It's not like other art. It can melt in a few days. It's something to enjoy and appreciate for a short time."
In this Viking revival, Collier has also organized the Chisel and Chainsaw Ice Carving Competition, in which teams with imagination, artistry and skill score the highest points.
"Ideally, I'd like to have 10 teams with 10 different dragons. But the theme is anything Viking related – gods, folklore and that's the whole idea. You want to broaden the amount of work."
In addition, Edmonton ice sculptor Robert Woodbury opens up his toolbox to create a throne for the Alberta Avenue Mummers, a sassy troupe of folk players.
Of the festival's signature events, Morin has little trouble identifying the deep freeze races as the most popular. Each team consists of five people, three inside the freezer, two pushing it from behind.
"It's so goofy. The freezers are on skis and the Freon has been gutted out. It's so bizarre and sometimes it's the absurd that that attracts us. It's just a crazy Canuck thing. It was a police constable who came up with it and people love it."
Street hockey and free skate rentals also pull in the crowds.
Last year the festival attracted about 25,000 visitors. This weekend, if the weather co-operates, numbers could rise.
One new activity is the Lamppost Cozy Competition, in which artists are encouraged to transform lampposts using knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning or quilting.
Jousting warriors, stiltwalkers, an aboriginal village, tic tac toe, curling and an ice slide come together to create an outdoor square.
And on both days, organizers serve a fire-roasted suckling pig fresh from the spit on a bun. The eats are dished out at 12 noon until it's gone.
Saturday's celebration of the francophone culture is also a great opportunity to sample homemade tourtière, pea soup and sugar pie. Sunday's salute to Ukrainian culture rolls out pyrohy, cabbage rolls, kubasa, borcht and doughnuts.
Throughout both days there is continual entertainment at the Alberta Avenue Community Centre featuring a fresh cocktail from Allez Ouest, an Edmonton folk-blues four-piece to Euphoria, a fusion of Ukrainian pop rock and traditional music.
The crowning jewel of the festival is a fireworks display on Saturday at 6 p.m. It is dedicated to the late Don Snider, a leader in the Edmonton arts community who was an integral part of the festival's fireworks.
"This festival really has its own character and its own soul," Morin says. "There's an artistic panache, food, sport and entertainment. It feels like a small village coming to life in the winter. It's a beautiful place to be on a winter's day."
This family-friendly festival is free of charge. However, donations are gratefully accepted.
Not all activities start or end at the same time. A complete calendar of events, location and times is available at: www.deepfreezefest.ca.