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Deep Freeze: a Byzantine Winter Festival

edmonton tourism
by Edmonton Tourism Team

Have you ever won a race while riding inside a giant freezer? Sawed a log clean in half the traditional French-Canadian way? Swept the competition in a game of Olde Tyme Curling? No? Okay, listen up. Winter is about to get a little more interesting.

Welcome to Deep Freeze: a Byzantine Winter Festival that brings together Ukrainian, Franco-Albertan, Franco-African, First Nation and South American communities to celebrate their diverse cultures and revel in the beauty of winter. You want variety? You got it. For two glorious days (January 13-14) you can marvel at snow & ice sculptors from Edmonton and around the world as they create frozen art, participate in an Enoch Cree Nation Round Dance, slide down a giant ice slide, watch athletic and artistic Ukrainian Dancers and so, so, so much more.

Naomi Pahl, an artist/creative demonstrator whose main medium is upcycling with a focus on fibres and textiles, has attended Deep Freeze almost every year since it started. She is a two-time participant (and first place/people’s choice award winner) in the Lamp Post ‘Cozy’ Contest during the festival, which inspires Edmonton creatives to use a lamp post as a base of a large art installation.

“I look forward to Deep Freeze every year because I know that I’m going to get to be a part of a festival that celebrates our relationship to the north (we are North America’s largest most northern city)" Noami says,"and yes, even to the cold. Most delightfully, this festival celebrates the warmth of its residents’ spirit!”

Not to worry, just because it's called Deep Freeze doesn't mean you'll be frozen. The festival features many outdoor firepits, heated tents, and buildings to warm up in along 118th Avenue. Stopping in to grab a coffee or a sweet snack at legendary local cafés like The Carrot is an absolute must. Plus, there really is something for the whole family.

“The incredible thing about this festival is that almost every part of it is interactive” Naomi says, “Whether you want to personally participate or just be an onlooker, you could seriously spend 6 hours there both days and be fully occupied the entire time. Plus, the shops and restaurants along this stretch of The Ave are incredible and worth checking out if you have some free time."

Naomi's top highlights include: the interpreters walking around in costumes, the ice sculptures that make amazing backdrops for pictures, and "la tire d’érable sur la neige", which is warm maple syrup poured over snow to create a delicious, and authentic, French-Canadian treat. This year, you can find Naomi doing preserving demonstrations in Deep Freeze’s homesteading village. One of her specialties is canning and preserving foraged fruit, and you can look forward to samples of Edmonton grown or foraged preserves. Choke cherry jelly anyone?

Edmontonians of all different backgrounds, trades, and interests are brought together in this 2-day celebration— the sense of community embraces you like a cup of hot cocoa on a chilly evening. Tim Moreland, who has previously attended the festival as a visitor, will be participating for the first time this year demonstrating his work as a historical blacksmith. His great grandfather was a blacksmith in Austria, and was a homesteader who used his blacksmithing skills on the farm.

“I focus on representing the fur traders and early homesteaders in my craft" Tim says, "People should expect to experience a representation of a working blacksmith shop—the sights, sounds, and smells—when they come to see my work.”

Tim will be demonstrating the full process of blacksmithing by making several small projects throughout the weekend so visitors can see projects completed from beginning to end. You can meet Tim, Naomi, and many other authentic interpreters and story tellers during this magical weekend.

This year's theme, Into the Winter Grove, will offer unexpected experiences celebrating the community through its urban landscape and exceptional spaces. Let's make Old Man Winter proud and bust out those long-johns, put on an extra layer, and get those mittens out of the back of the closet. Whether you want to get hands-on and participate, or observe from a comfortable distance, Deep Freeze has a little winter wonder for everyone. For the full festival schedule, click here.

Deep Freeze is free for all to enjoy, but donations are gratefully accepted!