Expanded ice festival draws thousands to downtown Dartmouth

‘We don’t come with just a block of ice. A lot of work and thought is put into them beforehand’

With plenty of sunshine and temperatures well below zero, conditions were ideal for the thousands of people who flocked to downtown Dartmouth over the weekend to experience the community’s second annual ice festival.

Hosted by the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, the success of last year’s inaugural two-day event led the commission to expand its activities for an extra day this year. The event ran from Friday to Sunday.

The additions included activities ranging from horse and sleigh rides to free hot chocolate and ice sculpting.

That event proved to be a very popular one.

About 25 ice sculptors could be seen starting their creations in front of the East Coast Credit Union building and along King’s Wharf and Portland Street.

The artists used ice picks, chisels, sanders and chainsaws to shave pieces of ice off as they formed their art.

Ghislain Frigault, one of the ice sculptors, came to downtown Dartmouth from his home in New Brunswick. He spent a couple of hours carving his masterpiece on Saturday.

“This is actually my first year doing ice sculpting … I’m an apprentice this year, so it’s really quite exciting,” he said.

Frigault explained each artist has different tools they prefer using, and most perfect their skill at woodworking before moving on to ice sculptures.

The shape of the sculptures themselves are predetermined, and the artists come with their ice in the correct height and width.

“We don’t come with just a block of ice. A lot of work and thought is put into them beforehand,” said Frigault

“We know which ones are going to be turned into what. They will not be formed yet but we might let it melt a certain way and then shape it.”

Dartmouth residents sit on the ‘ice couch’ outside the credit union.   Adam McNamara

Frigault attracted a large crowd around him as he worked on his ice block. He kept onlookers guessing what transformation would occur as a bunny slowly took shape.

“Most of them take an hour and a bit, sometimes two, it depends on how many details you want to put into it … The one I like most here is the eagle” he said, looking around at the other sculptures.

Also on Saturday, local musicians performed live sets on the top of Portland Street. The music carried down the hill toward the local credit union, which hosted a towering fire pit.

Beside the fire, which attracted dozens at any given time, volunteers from the bank handed out free hot dogs and hot chocolate.

Chris Wheeler came to the festival with his family on Saturday.

“We showed up just as the sculptures were being worked on and the artists are really quite remarkable,” said Wheeler.

As the midday sun peeked over downtown, the sculptures caught the sun’s rays at a perfect angle. Children, including Wheeler’s son Connor, were mesmerized by the reflections.

“The way that the light is coming down at this time of day, it’s really is lighting these up in a spectacular way, it’s almost like crystal. It’s quite something,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler, who had a chance to view all of the sculptures, sided with his son when asked which was his favorite.

“My favourite design would have to be the seal with the little ball on top. That’s quite impressive,” he said, pointing to one ice sculpture that proved popular on social media over the weekend.

A sculpture of a seal balancing an ice ball was a favourite among the huge crowd this weekend   Andrea McGuire

Local businesses in the area sponsored the event by giving discounts and providing free gifts.

Each of the three nights, the Dartmouth Players presented Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing at the Sawmill Playhouse.

Coun. Sam Austin is a member of the business commission. He said increased funding from the city allowed for better marketing, which he believes really helped get the word out.

Austin said although this is only the second year for the festival, he considers it a success.

“Several thousand people out on Portland Street in the middle of winter, that’s pretty phenomenal,” he said in an interview Sunday after the event wrapped up.

He said the festival has become “quite the little event” for downtown Dartmouth.

“We are talking during the bleakest doldrums of winter, which is a real hard time for the business community. It’s really an important event for them, but more importantly the wider community,” said Austin.

Adam McNamara

Adam McNamara

Adam McNamara is a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has a passion for telling stories and informing the public on healthcare, education, new technology and environmental issues.

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