Arctic Adventure 30 – Yellowknife Sojourn

Banner for 2015 Long John Jamboree in Yellowknife

Banner for 2015 Long John Jamboree in Yellowknife

There’s a saying – “when you have lemons, make lemonade” – always look for opportunity when faced with adversity. When I was stuck in Yellowknife (YK) for 24 hours last week-end I did just that and I was lucky to find the annual winter festival – the Long John Jamboree – taking place.

I lived in YK for six months in 2010 but that was during the summer and fall (autumn) so it was interesting to experience the place during the winter – actually early spring – and amazing to see the transformation between the seasons. The Jamboree is held on the thick ice of Yellowknife Bay – the main “harbour” for YK on Great Slave Lake and next to another annual feature of YK – the snow castle, built from snow with window panes and other features made of ice.

The snow castle is the brainchild of Snowking, Anthony Foliot, who started constructing small snow buildings on his own back in the 90s and now supervises a team of castle-builders who also contribute to the design and layout of the castle. Planning meetings are held in November and December, but the design of the castle is not finalize until construction begins, and even then it is subject to alteration during the building stage. The design evolves every year and the castle has grown to include an auditorium, cafe, courtyard, slide, parapets and turrets.

Ice is cut out of the lake in late October or early November, when it is between approximately four to ten inches thick. This ice is set aside for later use as window panes, tables, stair treads or other purposes. Construction starts on January 1 each year and goes on every day until the end of February.

In early years the castle was built entirely of blocks of snow. Firm snow from snowdrifts was collected by snowmobile and toboggan and brought to the building site. Later, front end loaders were used to pile snow that could be quarried from the mound using large cross-cut saws. The evolution of building technique included using a front-end loader to fill wooden formwork to create walls and roof structures. In recent years, snow has been placed into the formwork using a tractor- or bobcat-mounted snowblower. Although the snow is blown high into the air in this process, the crew refers to it as “pouring” snow, since the overall process is conceptually similar to that of pouring concrete.

Another feature of the festival is the ice carving competition which attracts teams of two from around North America and other parts of the world. Each team starts with huge blocks of ice – cut from the frozen lake – from which they carve their creations using a combination of chainsaws and other power tools. Unfortunately I got there too late to see the carvers in action but the results were amazing artistry as you will see in the photos.

A final highlight of the festival for me was the Burn on the Bay on Saturday night – YKs rendition of Burning Man put on by a group called the Back Bay Burners. This year the effigy was The Ouroboros – an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail and constructed out of recycled wood. The Ouroboros often symbolizes self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself.

Obviously it was nowhere near as spectacular as Burning Man but it was fun to see and I am sure that it will continue to grow in popularity in YK.


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