The Deep Freeze Festival began like many things in Canada: with a group of people complaining about the weather.
“We were quite disillusioned about the cold and all that comes with it,” shares Christy Morin, the festival’s founder and executive director. But, as the conversation continued, this group of artists found a convenient way to put an end to their cold weather blues: a winter festival that paid homage to all the vibrant cultures and artists that formed the Alberta Avenue District. “That’s how we started, saturated in community,” she says.
Initially, the festival began as a single-day celebration of Ukrainian and Indigenous cultures, but soon expanded to a two-day affair with Francophone, Franco-African, and Latino influences. Now, 16 years later, Deep Freeze is one of Edmonton’s hottest winter festivals. For two days, visitors roam 118th Avenue and enjoy music, axe throwing, live ice carving, and so much more. There’s also Pipon Village, where you can gather around the fire for Indigenous teachings with tea and fresh bannock.
Over the years, many new additions to Deep Freeze were created in direct response to community member suggestions. For example, the famous Deep Freezer Races came from a community police officer, who purchased a deep freezer from the ecocentre, took off the lid, removed the freon, and attached some donated skis to the bottom. This unique addition is now a key feature of the festival, and even caught the attention of television personality Rick Mercer when he visited the festival in 2018. There’s several other instances of this communal spirit: the festival’s Street Hockey Competition came from former City Councillor Scott McKeen and the Lamppost Cozy Challenge came from a local fibre artist who was itching to get involved. “When we see beautiful people, they always come with beautiful gifts,” says Christy.
What does 2023’s festival hold? Primarily, a return to its roots. Deep Freeze is back on 118th Avenue after two years away due to COVID-19. While they were grateful for the festival’s temporary home in Borden Park, Christy and her team are excited to be back on the Ave, bringing beauty to the streets and showcasing all the vibrant businesses their community has to offer. Another exciting addition includes the Heritage Village, which will feature several small buildings filled with artisans practicing their crafts, such as willow weaving and jam making. This new project is being developed with the help of Blacksmith Tim Moreland, who is a longtime Deep Freeze participant—readers might recognize Tim from his famous mobile forge!
As our conversation wrapped up, I asked Christy the impossible question. What is your favourite part of Deep Freeze? She reflected for a moment and settled on this: the way it ignites her senses. “It’s hearing the sleigh bells come down the Avenue, hearing kids screaming on the slides, smelling chestnuts roasting on the fires. It’s so different from what we normally hear. It feeds your soul.”
Deep Freeze Festival is running January 21 & 22. Visit their website (deepfreezefest.ca) for a full schedule of events.
This article by Kristen Thomas appears in the January/February issue of Info Edmonton magazine.