2012 Mill Creek Adventure Walk

On Saturday, Mack and I joined hundreds of other Edmontonians on the Mill Creek Adventure Walk to take advantage of a unseasonably warm January night.

This was the event’s forth incarnation in as many years, but the first that we’ve been able to get to (we’re also embarrassed to admit that this was our first time visiting these trails, period). Though we’d seen photos of some of Mill Creek all decked out, we really didn’t know what to expect.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk


At the head of the trail stood a warming fire sculpture (the kind that has almost become ubiquitous with outdoor winter events in the city), not a bad place for it given the winds in that particular spot. As we ducked into the tree-sheltered paths, however, the breeze immediately dissipated. To guide the way, organizers had marked the trail with coloured lanterns, a simple but elegant touch – children and adults alike were mesmerized by the patterns they cast onto the snow.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk


We eventually found our way to the welcome area, festive with a combination of Caribbean beats, dazzling lights and warming fires. We guessed that the heated tents offered an opportunity to craft a lighted walking stick, but the lines deterred us from joining in.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Welcome tent

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Let there be light!

The “adventure” portion of the walk started here. The narrative woven for this year’s walk involved the Beavers of the creek rallying around the construction of a new lodge, a move opposed by the Skunks, Ravens and Magpies. In the welcome area, participants were introduced to this conflict by an actor playing the part of one of the groups concerned. It was definitely an intimate setting, as the actors were not equipped with microphones, so we had to strain to hear what was being said (curious that they situated the actor right next to the blaring music speakers). We decided at that point not to partake in the story, but to simply enjoy the other sights the walk had to offer.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Storyboards also helped to tell the story

Some points along the adventure trail were quite narrow, and given we encountered several parties trying to make their way back the same way, it was obvious that clear signs for trail options were needed (the way back, on the elevated, flat embankment was much easier to navigate).

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Adventure trail

We encountered two additional story circles along the way, both involving visuals to help set the scene. We found the Eager Beaver particularly entertaining as we passed, as well as the black-caped Raven, purring about “shiny things” and frightening children along the way.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

The Really Big Lodge

The last gathering point was bustling with families, and a significant number of dogs (I think people were just waiting for an outdoor opportunity to involve their four-legged member of the family!). There was a snowfort and ice slide that kept the young ones occupied, while we grabbed a cup of hot chocolate to savour.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Edmontonians out in full force

We really enjoyed our walk in the park. We wondered if sans programming (but including heated tents), whether or not people would still come out to enjoy a midnight stroll if the lanterns were left to light the way – if so, it would be a relatively low-cost way to encourage Edmontonians to embrace the outdoors on a more regular basis.

Mill Creek Adventure Walk

Mack loved the look of the lights on the snow

Kudos to Winter Light and the organizers of the Mill Creek Adventure Walk – it proves that we all just need a reason to be outside!

Up next for Winter Light: Common Ground, “a warm hearted gathering of winter spirit in the inner city” on February 10-11, 2012.

Art Burn at the 2011 Silver Skate Festival

At twenty one years of age, the Silver Skate Festival is the granddaddy of winter festivals in our fair city. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone in Edmonton is aware that Silver Skate exists, in spite of the fact that it offers something for everyone. What other event hosts a winter triathlon, long blade skate tryouts, snow sculptures, musical performances and fun with fire?

That said, it was a mostly brutal weekend for the festival to fall on – bitterly cold temperatures probably kept some curious festivalgoers away, and had we not already agreed to judge the Art Burn competition, as Mack mentioned, he and I likely would have been among those under self-imposed house arrest too. Of course – Edmontonians are a hearty lot, so it wasn’t a surprise that we encountered a small crowd at Hawrelak Park when we arrived at Silver Skate on Saturday night.

Walking to the festival grounds from the bus stop was a bit of an adventure in itself. Erin Di Loreto, Festival Producer, explained that one of the challenges of the site was access to power, but the stick lanterns that lined the path really didn’t really do the job. Moreover, though it might be minor in the grand scheme of things, some sand around the main programming space might have also helped in the relative darkness.

Once we arrived at the grounds, located next to the permanent shelter and concession building, we found it to be quite spirited indeed, but acknowledgement of the temperature – a tent had been set up to shield the musical performers from the cold, with a few fires set up around the stage to keep onlookers warm.

The snow sculptures were also noteworthy, picturesque and beautifully illuminated.

Silver Skate Festival

Snow sculpture alley

Silver Skate Festival

Some of the snow sculptures were still being touched up!

Silver Skate Festival

Fun Yelp throne

After meeting up with our fellow judges (Chris Carson, Director of Visual Arts Alberta and Shane Golby with the AGA), we took a look at the sculptures (with the aid of flashlights – most people would only see them once they were alight).

There were six sculptures in total, crafted from hay, wood, fabric and a few other indeterminately flammable materials. We were to judge them on criteria that included their artistic nature pre-burn, as well as how well the fire served the sculpture (and vice versa).

Silver Skate Festival

Marissa Kochanski’s phoenix

The lighting of the sculptures was almost as elaborate as the construction of them, and involved the Vibe Tribe, a dance troop that plays with fire.

Silver Skate Festival

The Vibe Tribe was so much fun to watch (we still have no idea how the woman with the hula hoop managed not to set herself on fire)

The crowd followed them to the roped off area, and under the watchful eye of a Fire Marshall, the dancers set each of the six sculptures on fire.

Silver Skate Festival

Follow the vibe

The pre-burn favourite was also the post-burn favourite: Marissa Kochanski’s phoenix, with elegant wings constructed from strips of fabric. Unlike a few of the other sculptures, it also collapsed in a graceful manner.

Silver Skate Festival

Phoenix, post-burn

It was a spectacle that Mack and I were happy to witness, let alone judge. Thanks again to Erin for the opportunity!

Looking for more winter fun? Check out the Mill Creek Adventure Walk, February 25-26, or the Elk Island Star Party on March 5, 2011.

Winter Light 2011: Illuminations

Mack in particular has been harsh on the Winter Light Festival in the past, but necessarily so, because we know how much potential it has to make the cold months in our city more bearable. Tonight, though, we were absolutely buzzing after attending Illuminations, a spectacular show that can and should legitimately become the jewel in the crown of winter festivals in Edmonton.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011


We didn’t make it out to Illuminations last year, but we did in 2009, and found the event to be underwhelming. There were decorations, bonfires, and a few roving performers, but it wasn’t anything that would draw us back again. I’m happy to say that this year’s edition was quite the opposite.

It was chilly out, nearly –30 with wind chill (easily twenty degrees colder than when we visited Ice on Whyte last weekend), but Churchill Square still held a sizable crowd.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Gathering around the fire

We arrived just before the finale performance, and had time to take in some of the visual installations, the bonfires, and marvel at the “winter people”, actors dressed in white and trailed throughout the Square by targeted spotlights.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The promenade

Circus Orange is a Toronto-based pyrotechnic circus performance troupe – but really, all you need to know is that they were amazing.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The show begins

Their show combined dance, stunts, pyrotechnics, and a good old fashioned clown, and was mesmerizing for both children and adults alike.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

The clown tames the monsters with…marshmallows!

The show began in front of the Art Gallery of Alberta, luring the crowd with a striking, monstrous steel tricycle outfitted with flares. The tricycle eventually moved into Churchill Square towards City Hall, and everyone followed like the obedient ducklings we were, frozen, but eager to see what would come next.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Follow that trike!

The finale was unexpected and extravagant. We thought the climax had arrived when a female performer was lifted into the air by a massive crane, waving sparklers, but in actuality, that was just a teaser.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

When sparks fly

The actual conclusion involved the same performer, again lifted in the air, but harnessed into the large tricycle wheel, spinning fifty feet above the crowd, sparks flying, and City Hall aglow behind the spectacle. Fireworks were icing on the cake.

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

Up in the air

Winter Light Illuminations 2011

More sparks

Winter Light Illuminations 2011


Congratulations to the organizers of Winter Light for a fabulous event. As Mack said in his post, we hope this calibre of a performance is something we can look forward to every year – once word gets out, we can only imagine it will become a must-see affair for those in Edmonton and beyond, regardless of the weather!

Ice on Whyte 2011

Spanning one of the coldest weekends to one of the warmest, this year’s Ice on Whyte festival has seen it all. Mack and I headed to Old Strathcona on Saturday to check it out, hoping that the ice sculptures hadn’t yet been reduced to puddles.

Ice on Whyte 2010

A part of Winter Light

There were a ton of people out, more than we’ve ever seen at the festival – we wondered if the high attendance numbers were attributable to the weather, or perhaps to the theme?

Ice on Whyte 2010

Large crowds

This year’s festival had a Chinese theme, with nine carvers from Harbin, China having travelled to Edmonton to collaborate on everything from the dragon slide to the pagodas.

Ice on Whyte 2010Welcome

Both the gate and the pagodas were equally impressive (and seemed to be popular photo backdrops), but I had a soft spot for the ice zodiac, and couldn’t help but pose for a picture next to my representative animal.

Ice on Whyte 2010

That’ll do, pig

Mack’s favourite ice sculpture was the Transformer – though we appreciated the abstract and interpretive nature that made up a number of sculptures, it was a nice surprise to see one based on popular culture.

Ice on Whyte 2010


Ice on Whyte appeared to be larger than in past years – there were a number of snow sculptures on display as well.

Ice on Whyte 2010

Still at work

In addition to the always-popular ice slide, there were several smaller ice slides as well in a children’s play area, complete with a small ice maze.

Ice on Whyte 2010


Ice on Whyte 2010

Slide pretty for the camera!

Next up for Winter Light is Illuminations, this Saturday, January 29, featuring a snowball battle, choir performances, and circus pyrotechnics. See you there!

You can see the rest of our photoset here.

Ice on Whyte 2010

Mack and I finally attended Ice on Whyte today, twice in fact. We stopped by this afternoon on our way home, dutifully paying our $2 admission and joined a crowd of adults and young families at Festival Park in Old Strathcona.

At Festival Park

We took our time admiring the ice sculptures, all of which had already been adorned with prize ribbons in both artists’ and people’s choice categories. Mack and I both liked “stretched” – an adult and baby giraffe, complete with frosted spots on their clear ice flesh.



We then walked over the ice bridge to the castle, which, unlike in previous years when I have visited, was complete with ice furnishings! The fountain was particularly neat, where patrons had moulded coins into its surface.

Would you like some ice?

Cooling his hands at the fireplace

Freezing coins into the fountain

The ice maze was probably better left to those under three feet. Though the entryway was accessible to anyone standing over five feet tall, the only through exit was via a small crawl-hole. It’s a kid’s world out there!

Inside the maze

The ice slide was the most popular attraction that afternoon, with adults and kids alike lining up to race each other down the frosty decline on a crazy carpet. It looked like fun, but after my clumsy mishap a few years ago, I avoided a potential repeat tumble.

Even though it was the last day of the festival, several ice carvers were still on site working on various sculptures. It was –19 with the windchill this afternoon, but the carvers did not look like the cold bothered them in the least.

Hard at work

Following dinner this evening, we returned to Festival Park to see the sculptures illuminated at nightfall. I’d never been to Ice on Whyte after dark before, but I was glad we took the time to do so – there was a different vibe on the grounds – it was more relaxed and peaceful somehow.

“aquarium” after dark

“branching out”

Ice bridge

Besides sculpture viewing and the ice slide, there was a blues concert going on in the small indoor venue. As with all festivals, it’s nice to see Ice on Whyte expanding and offering different events.


Make sure to check out Ice on Whyte next year, or if you can’t wait that long – the next Winter Light event is Hearts of Fire on February 13 at the Boyle Street Park.

You can see Mack’s photoset here.

Mispon Winter Light Gala 2010

I was really excited to attend the kick-off event of this year’s Winter Light festival, Mispon Gala (mispon is “it’s snowing” in Cree). Based on last year’s evening of entertainment and food, I thought things could only get better, with Winter Light now in it’s second year.

Before entering City Hall, I walked past Churchill Square, expecting to find some outdoor activities similar to the previous year such as fire pits, light and lantern installations, or a snow maze. Unfortunately, the Square was bare.

All of the evening’s activity was concentrated at City Hall. Three fire pits had been set up around the ice rink, with some braving the cold playing around on the ice as we were leaving, but for the most part, everyone was indoors.

Outside City Hall

The ceremonies had just started when I arrived, with several festival event organizers taking their turn at the microphone to introduce their respective projects. After that, the audience was treated to a performance by Kristine Nutting’s Warm Up Burlesque – a cheeky, reverse burlesque that had the dancers pulling on layers of clothing. It was somewhat amusing, but not my cup of tea.

Krstine Nutting’s Warm Up Burlesque

To end off the night, Johnny Quazar and the Swingbots provided the musical backdrop as NAIT catering dished out comforting plates of food, including Big Rock Winter Spice Ale glazed meatballs and maple baked beans with sourdough crostini. Our favourite actually turned out to be the honey-scented bannock with Saskatoon marmalade – the bannock was sweet, with a lovely consistency similar to a scone.

Johnny Quazar and the Swingbogs

Bannock and Baked Beans

I was a little disappointed festival organizers didn’t go the route chosen last year – offering free hot chocolate to those who brought a reusable mug (I realize I should have brought a container for the food samples as well). I do think, however, that the more festivals remind us to bring containers with us, the better – it will eventually become habit.

In the City Room

As a whole, I was expecting more of the gala – more people, more excitement, more festivities. The tone seemed restrained this year, and as Mack noted, the lack of outdoor activities (for a festival that celebrates the cold season) was unfortunate. I am still looking forward to some of the upcoming events though, such as Ice on Whyte and the Silver Skate Festival. Check the website for more details.

Winter Light 2009: Illuminations

After dinner at Hardware Grill, Mack, his parents and I walked over to Churchill Square to take in the last event in Edmonton’s first Winter Light festival. Called “Illuminations”, it was billed to be “a spectacle of light and fire”.

The only other event I attended over the course of the festival was the opening ceremonies (although I have been to Ice on Whyte in past years). Based on the vibrant performances, free food, and bustling crowd out on that cold January night, I really was expecting more from Illuminations.

Beautiful flower installation optimistically ushering in spring (photo by Eclectic Blogs)

Lantern installations, a large bonfire, and drumming in tipis made up the bulk of the “activities”, though to be fair, we didn’t stay long enough to witness the fireworks. Musicians cycled through the makeshift stage on the north side of the Square, but the performances were fairly low-key. We brought our own reusable mugs for lukewarm, I mean, hot chocolate (disappointed that they didn’t continue their bring-your-own-cup mantra), but the event definitely could have benefited from more vendors.

Musicians (photo by Eclectic Blogs)


Floating decorations


Me and Mack (photo by Eclectic Blogs)

I largely agree with Mack’s criticisms of Winter Light as a whole – there was just something missing. I’d be interested to see if City Council green lights another year, but at least there’s something to improve on.

You can take a peek at Mack photo set here and Martin’s photo set here.

Winter Light 2009

When I first heard about the new Winter Light Festival, an initiative to make the most of our longest season, I was skeptical about the interest that a cold weather festival would generate. But as more details were released about some of the events that would take place over the ten weeks, I started to get excited – the Fringe started off small, didn’t it?

Churchill Square

Mack and I headed down to Churchill Square this evening for the opening ceremonies. We missed the blessing fire, but wandered through the Square to see what other outdoor fun was to be had. We wandered past a warming tepee, a spiral maze built with mounds of snow, a number of warming stations, and a tent distributing hot chocolate. The latter required that a reusable mug be presented, or else one could be borrowed for $4 – I liked this environmental acknowledgement.

Outside City Hall

As it was –30 with windchill that night, it wasn’t surprising that the most lively place was in fact inside City Hall. Of course, free samples of comfort foods, cooked up by students from the NAIT Culinary Arts program, didn’t hurt matters either.

The samples they distributed were quite generous, and really, it was probably a shame that we had eaten dinner just before. Four items were up for grabs: medley of three perogies with traditional garnishes, chipotle bison chili, Alberta pulled pork slider with slaw, and bannock with local honey. The chili was definitely my favourite (so much so that I went back for seconds) – I loved the sweetness of the corn added to balance out the spiciness. Mack loved the moist and tender pork sliders.

Pork Slider and Bannock

My only disappointment was that disposable plates were used. Though NAIT was likely responsible for the food, the organizers still could have alerted them to the pro-environment ideal, and at least have encouraged people to reuse their plates and cutlery.

We stayed and watched some of the entertainment for a while, including Andrea House and Le Fuzz. Though it was a cold night, I think I expected the attendance to be higher. Understanding that the festival kicked off on a Thursday to make the most of the Friday news cycle, the hours probably made it difficult for families with school-aged children to attend.

City Room festivities

Based on the opening ceremonies, I’m cautiously optimistic about the rest of the schedule. Up next: the Deep Freeze on 118 Avenue, and Ice on Whyte. Go check it out!

Mack’s post on the opening ceremonies is here, while his photo set is here.