Impressions of Deep Freeze – A Byzantine Winter Festival

Over the past weekend, I decided to go out and volunteer for Deep Freeze – A Byzantine Winter Festival. While I usually only go out to summer events, I wanted to try out some winter festivals, and I figured this one would be a good start. With this being my first time attending this festival, I’d like to recap some of the highlights I got to experience while there.

For those readers not in the Edmonton loop, Deep Freeze is a cultural festival highlighting Canada’s diversity while bringing us all together for a weekend of fun. You can watch shows put on by performers of various backgrounds, try your hand at some family-friendly activities, sample some local food and drinks, and explore a street sprinkled with sculptures of ice and pits of fire! All this for the low cost of zero dollars!

A zany street performance put on by the Alberta Avenue Mummers.

So, what else does the festival have to offer? Well, you have a bunch of street shows going on along Alberta Avenue. You can visit a Viking encampment, run into wandering walruses, converse with kooky clowns, or even take a horse-drawn wagon ride if you feel like it! If you’re cold, you can stop and rest by one of the fire pits for as long as you need, or you can go and check out some of the indoor venues, such as…

The Alberta Avenue Community League has a section open to the public where you can go to buy a full meal and watch a show. There’s a Giant Igloo (not an actual igloo, just an inflatable) where you can drink alcohol and listen to live music. The Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, as well as hosting performances, also has an open art gallery, along with a vendor’s section where you can buy cool local works.

Ice sculptures and an ice slide, illuminated at night.

There are many kinds of performances to watch, whether you prefer the indoors or outdoors. There’s something for everyone: musical performances, dance showcases, storytelling… you don’t just have to stick with one thing. There’s no ticket cost either (did I mention it was free?), and you’re free to come and go as you please. This lends itself well to the festival’s laid-back atmosphere, as you aren’t pressured into going anywhere and you can enjoy the Deep Freeze your own way!

Of the shows I got to see this year during my free time, I think I most enjoyed Marc Halun & the Ranger Creek Wranglers. I also liked the Ukrainian storyteller Hannia Tarasiuk, the Cree hoop dancer Lakota Tootoosis, and the Ukrainian hybrid folk/swing band Marango Pie. Though I didn’t always understand the language, good quality music is something that transcends the language barrier.

Francophone group Marc Halun & the Ranger Creek Wranglers, performing inside the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.

Though not the main focus, perhaps the highlight of the festival is the works of art scattered about the festival grounds. 2020’s theme was Under The Frozen Sea, made apparent by the ice sculptures and the giant humpback whale lantern. Some notable sculptures in addition to the ones shown here included an anchor, an ice throne, and a Kraken. There was also a cool carousel-styled light installation, though it wasn’t displayed on Sunday due to the cold weather.

On the subject of the weather, that weekend was a cold snap. Some of the festival features were closed down on Sunday due to the cold, which is a shame, but that’s Edmonton weather for ya: blistering heat in the summer, piercing cold in the winter. Attendance went down a good bit from Saturday, but some people (myself included) still braved it out and had a good time.

One of the outdoor fire spaces, also a rather nifty art piece.

There’s no shortage of food and drinks; by the fire, you can roast a marshmallow, smores, or a whole apple. If you’re feeling adventurous, one of the tents at Pipon Village offers samples of seal and narwhal meat. You can also buy food and drinks, like at the aforementioned Giant Igloo, or the Cabane de Sucre, where you can get yourself a frozen maple syrup treat! There’s also the Carrot Coffeehouse, for a more conventional eating experience.

From the volunteer perspective, the organizers treated us pretty well. We’re provided with warm meals, hot drinks, and snacks in a heated lounge. Depending on the shift type (of which there are many), there are ample opportunities provided for warmth. In addition, we get a volunteer-exclusive toque.

Volunteers also get invited to an after-party, which includes a dinner and a raffle. Overall, I felt that the benefits of volunteering are well worth the risks of going out in the cold.

An illuminated dream-catcher ice sculpture at Pipin Village, an area showcasing the indigenous cultures of Canada.

Fun Fact: the Byzantine namesake comes from the festival’s original purpose, which was to celebrate the New Year the Ukrainian Orthodox way. See, as a Christian Orthodox nation, Ukraine was rather slow in adopting the Gregorian calendar. They were adamant on sticking to the Julian calendar, so as a result, they celebrated the New Year on a later date. If you’d like to know more about the difference between these two calendars, I have an article covering the topic, which you can find here:

Counting The Days: The Minds Behind The Calendar

I had a good time at this festival, despite the weather. If you’re in Edmonton and you don’t mind the cold, I’d recommend you give it a look. I might write more regarding other festivals, but for now, I’d like to warm up inside.

A giant humpback whale lantern, created by Gabrielle deGouw.