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Sculptors take icy creations beyond Old Strathcona

Annual Old Strathcona ice festival partners with the downtown to encourage walking tours and visits to area restaurants.
Aurora Bianco day - Mark and Cliff
Create your own ice sculpture-focused food and walking tour at this year's re-imagined Ice on Whyte festival. Photo: Lincoln Ho

 If you've noticed majestic ice carvings in front of your favourite restaurants and winter patios in recent weeks, it's likely the icy embrace of Boardwalk Ice on Whyte's annual festival, this time spreading out from its traditional digs in Old Strathcona to downtown spaces too.

Edmonton artists Mark Berge, Steve Buzak, Cliff Vacheresse and Saskatoon artist Peter Fogarty (who's brought in this year's ice block supply) have created over a dozen ice works downtown at Biano, Cask & Barrel, Central Social Hall, Rocky Mountain Icehouse and Sherlock Holmes Pub. At its home digs of Old Strathcona, sculptures can be found at Ampersand 27, The Woodrack Cafe, Vons Steak House and Oyster Bar. The artists have even joined other festivals to create works at Silver Skate and Flying Canoe Volant.

This year's event (on now through March 7) is a departure from years past, where a Whyte Avenue-area park site hosted an international ice carving competition, food and beverage offerings plus nightly entertainment. Ice on Whyte producer Jill Roszell said the re-imagined event is part of a Winter City activation that more fully engages restaurants and businesses downtown and in Old Strathcona. 

"Because of COVID-19, we couldn't bring in the international ice carvers, so we thought we'd highlight restaurants that have been big supporters of our festival in past years," said Roszell. "We want to encourage people to get outside and enjoy the ice sculptures and if they're comfortable, to enjoy dining at restaurants that are really struggling right now."

Visitors can seek out sculptures and get a passport from host restaurants that will offer discounts and a chance to win prizes including a Chef Kit for four and Food Bike Tour. Feel like a hot chocolate and sweet treat? The festival's home neighbourhood of Old Strathcona has its own Sweet Treats & Latte Festival to accompany any self-guided ice sculpture tour. Until mid-March, 13 coffee shops, bakeries and area restaurants have promotions on sweets and beverages. Sharing photos at #SweetTreatsYEG may even win you a gift card from a participating business.

Because this year's Ice and the City is part of the Downtown Recovery Task Force's multi-faceted community campaign Love Downtown, any photo of the downtown sculptures posted to #IceAndTheCityYEG and #yegdt (by Feb. 28) will be included for a Staycation prize package. This deal includes a two-night hotel stay and $150 gift card to a downtown restaurant.

For an elevated experience, Roszell said a culinary session with Food Walk Tours Chef Table Living is the way to go. She estimates a food walk tour with food sampling and sculpture sightseeing should take around two hours.

"We aim to have the full festival with ice competition back for 2022. With the format this year, we can encourage people to get outdoors safely--just see and do it all before the ice sculptures melt," said Roszell. See for full festival details, or get a fully integrated tour and video experience using the Story City app.