British Columbia·Photos

How is winter celebrated in northern B.C.? With colourful ice displays and a beard-growing contest

The bitter cold penetrating northern B.C. isn’t great for water pipes or fingertips, but it’s perfect for ice artists like Eliza Stanford.

‘It's a big splash of colour in ... a long, white and grey winter,’ says one ice artist

The High on Ice Winter Festival in Fort St. John, B.C., has separate ice carving competitions for professionals and for the general public. (City of Fort St. John/Facebook)

The bitter cold penetrating northern B.C. isn't great for water pipes or fingertips, but it's perfect for ice artists like Eliza Stanford. 

The Peace Region-based artist has been using the recent deep freeze to create huge sheets of multi-coloured ice to display at the High on Ice Winter Festival in Fort St. John this week.

"It's a big splash of colour in what is generally a long, white and grey winter," Stanford said.

Eliza Stanford, who creates colourful ice designs, is one of the artists at the festival. (Submitted by Eliza Stanford)

She's been making the stained-glass-window-like creations recreationally for several years and freezes the panes on her back porch.

"I have to wait until we get into a nice cold snap, so in the –20s C is perfect for me because then the ice freezes very quickly and it suspends the pigments in the water,"  Stanford said.

The cold weather is better for creating the bright ice slabs because the colour settles better, Stanford says. (Submitted by Eliza Stanford)

She then uses the colourful cut-outs to design scenes in the snow. Some of her past creations range from birthday cakes to ski hills to circus tents.

"It's so much fun because every year I get to do something completely different. It's quite unique," she told Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Stanford freezes the slabs on her back porch and then carefully transports them to the festival. The pieces can't be too big, she explains, because otherwise they become to heavy to work with. (Eliza Stanford/Facebook)

International community of ice

Other ice carvers are coming from places including Russia, Poland, the U.S. and other parts of Canada to work on cold-temperature art pieces.

"I feel so lucky to play a tiny little role in this incredible international community," Stanford said.

Stanford standing next to one of her past creations. (Submitted by Eliza Stanford)

"It just motivates me to do something every year."

Stanford's work is one of many displays at the festival, which includes other activities such as ice slides, fire shows and a beard-growing contest.

Ice artists are coming from around the world for the weekend festival. (Fort St. John/Facebook)

Throwback to the '80s

This year's festival is a throwback to decades past, said Fort St. John's recreation programmer Marissa Jordan.

"[The theme] is return of the Mukluk Rendezvous," she said.

"That was the original winter carnival celebration in the Fort St. John region that started in the early '80s."

That's where activities such as the beard-growing contest come in — not the typical community festival event.

It used to be quite an "elaborate" contest, Jordan explained, where men would start growing their beards out after Christmas. They had roughly an eight-week window to produce the best one and were judged in six different categories.

The festival has tons of activities for children, including ice slides. (City of Fort St. John/Facebook)

This year's is a bit different.

"They can enter in this with as little or as much facial hair as they want," Jordan said.

"From my understanding, they're doing a sort of Applause-O-Meter style judging where it's the people's choice."

The festival opens Friday and runs until Monday. 

With files from Daybreak North