EDMONTON, ALBERTA -- (Marketwire) -- 01/04/13 -- In the neighbourhoods of Old Strathcona, in central Edmonton, it's difficult to cut your lawn or weed the garden for ten consecutive minutes in the summer. We're overwhelmed by sunlight. Everyone wants to chat, or have a drink, or invite us to a garden party or a show. After a dark winter the streets and avenues are pedestrian circuits, from the farmers' market to the Mill Creek Ravine, the restaurant to the shoe store, the bakery to the theatre.
Old Strathcona is home to Edmonton's largest arts festival - the oldest and largest Fringe theatre party on the continent. It leaks into the rest of the season. Every summer day has a festival feeling. But ten years ago, the Old Strathcona Business Association noticed a void. In autumn and in December, the Whyte Avenue shopping and entertainment district was crowded every day and night.
What about January?
If Edmontonians hibernated, it was in January. Was there a way to shake them out of it? To turn their attention away from credit card bills and extra pounds, and toward those same streets and avenues that are so lively every other month?
The solution was Ice on Whyte.
Summer has its theatre and music and street-performers circuit. Fall is for film and literature. It turns out the hottest international touring world, in January, is also the coldest: ice sculpture. Whyte Avenue, Edmonton's second downtown, transformed into a January destination - with a global ice carving competition.
In its early years, Ice on Whyte's dreamy marriage of fire and ice was in McIntyre Park, home of the Fringe. Giant ice slides, stages and play areas grew every year, along with the crowds. Soon, there was no room for the spectacular ice carvers to work. So the event moved a few blocks east to the more spacious End of Steel Park, home of Edmonton's historic jazz club the Yardbird Suite.
There is usually plenty of snow and ice in Edmonton in January, but carving ice is special. It is wonderfully clear, as it freezes from the bottom to the top. A company called Ice Culture creates and distributes carving and decorative ice to 58 countries around the world. Several tons are now reserved every year for Ice on Whyte.
In ten years, Ice on Whyte has helped create an ice carving industry in Edmonton, with local carvers joining the circuit and companies launching to serve the demand for decorative ice sculptures. The festival is an invitation for kids to begin thinking about winter differently, with the Lil' Chipper program: watch an artist work, learn, and start carving.
Edmonton is the northern-most major city in North America, and culturally diverse. Introducing new Canadians to winter, and helping longtime citizens fall in love with it, is a new focus in the city: winter sidewalk cafes, winter parties, winter architecture and design, winter fashion and, of course, winter festivals are part of a cultural transformation in Edmonton. We've always had winter and we always will: why not embrace the dark season? It's an unusually good year for northern lights. Why not go outside and play?
Ice on Whyte rolls it all into one: fashion and design, music and literature, kid fun during the day and adult fun at night, all of it outside. Despite some scary myths that Edmontonians themselves often perpetuate, there are only two or three days a year when it's prohibitively cold outside. All you need is a good jacket and boots, a hat and gloves, and - if you fancy it - a glass of wine in your hand.
Most northern cities, in January and February, are hoping for warmth. In Edmonton, thanks to Ice on Whyte and other winter festivals, we have begun to hope for a comfortable but consistent cold. Last year it was so warm the carvers had to work at night. The snow had melted. We had to protect the ice from the heat.
This year we're dreaming of ice.
Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
Communications Manager External Relations
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