THE DEEP FREEZE FESTIVAL IN EDMONTON, CANADA
Creative artists like Twyla Tharp, Phillip Glass and Frank Stella helped transform New York’s SoHo from a warehouse district to one of Manhattan’s trendiest neighbourhoods. Edmonton artists are the key players in the revitalization of our city’s Alberta Avenue neighbourhood, and in true Edmonton fashion, festivals like Deep Freeze are part of the rebranding.
In the early 1900s, meat packing plants, a garment factory and a foundry attracted newly arrived immigrants to Edmonton’s north side. The working-class families made Alberta Avenue their home. As the plants and factories shut down or moved away, the neighbourhood declined.
Edmonton’s city council began searching for a new revitalization plan for Alberta Avenue in 2005. Around the same time, local residents and theatre artists Christy Morin and Anita Lennie were talking about how to revive their beloved neighbourhood. With the help of community newspaper Rat Creek Press, they reached out to residents—many of whom included creative artists—for ideas and support.
The City of Edmonton and Alberta Avenue residents teamed up, and their joint efforts resulted in Arts Alive, a home-grown festival celebrating the arts. Dancers, visual artists and community groups converted empty business spaces into performance venues on Thanksgiving weekend in 2006. Now artistic director of Arts on the Ave, the festival’s producing organization, Morin recalls the success of the first year: “Members of Captain Tractor played a concert and people came out and sat on bales of hay. They were eating popcorn and gazing at the stars. It was a magical moment.” Renamed the Kaleido Family Arts Festival, the weekend event has become a huge success. Last year, the festival brought out over 65,000 people.
On the heels of this success, community members approached Morin with the idea of a winter festival. In recognition of the Ukrainian residents in the area, Arts on the Ave came up with Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival during Malanka, the Ukrainian New Year in 2007. Outdoors, spectators viewed beautiful ice sculptures being carved on site. Indoors, festival goers watched a Mummers Play, a nod to the tradition of mortality plays put on during the Ukrainian New Year. The festival grew to two days and recognized other members of Alberta Avenue’s diverse community such as French Canadians, Metis, Aboriginals, Asian and Latino.
This year Deep Freeze will celebrate the Ukrainian New Year on the Sunday and devote the Saturday to recognizing the culture of francophones, not just in Canada, but of the French-speaking immigrants from around the world. In addition, there will be events featuring African drums, Aboriginal dance and Latin music.
No Canadian winter festival would be complete without a street hockey tournament. Teams compete against each other in a two-day tournament in one of four fenced-in rinks along 118 Avenue. Don’t have a team? No problem. You can join a pick-up game.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Deep Freezer Race. Steve Sharpe, a community police officer, suggested to Morin that the festival needed a deep freezer race. Morin embraced the DIY spirit that sparked the revitalization of Alberta Avenue: “I gave him a couple of days to show me what he meant and he came back with a freezer mounted on skis. I loved the idea.” The race has become the signature of the festival, with teams pushing one of a dozen freezers across an open field. Teams adopt a theme and dress appropriately with a couple of riders in the freezer and the rest of the team pushing. This year’s festival theme, The “Vikings Are Here,” is sure to inspire some creative costumes for the race.
The Deep Freeze Festival may take place during Edmonton’s coldest month, but the festival will warm your heart.
Deep Freeze: A Byzantine Winter Festival
January 11 – 12, 2014
For an extensive look at everything to do in Edmonton during the winter.