Sandcastle master goes with the grain

For Quebec City's Marc Lepire, building sandcastles is more than a hobby: it’s a full-time job and part of his family legacy.

Marc Lepire learned the craft from his late father and is passing it on to his son

It takes master sculptors like Marc Lepire one full day of shovelling and up to five days of sculpting to construct pieces like the one behind him, created for Gatineau's Wonders of Sand festival. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

For Quebec City's Marc Lepire, building sandcastles is much more than a hobby: it's a full-time job and part of a family legacy. 

Lepire was one of the master sculptors whose work was on display at the Wonders of Sand festival in Gatineau, Que., on the weekend. 

I am still a kid, but the sandbox is bigger than me now​​.​​​​​- Marc Lepire

As Lepire explained, carving fine sculptures out of sand requires plenty of creativity — especially when it comes to tools.

"You can use anything. Almost every carver has a different kind of tool," he said. 

Lepire uses straws, spoons and peanut butter jars to build his sand creations. 

Sand sculptor Marc Lepire created a scene from the Ice Age movie franchise for this year’s Wonders of Sand festival in Gatineau, Que. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Knowing how to shovel and compact the sand is key to a sturdy sculpture, he said.

"You need to pack the sand very well. We use a [60 centimetre tall] wooden box."

Over the weekend, Marc Lepire's work was on display alongside other carvers at the Wonders of Sand festival in Gatineau. 6:58

It takes nearly a week to create a major piece and it can easily end in tears, Lepire said.

"Almost every contest I do, at least one or two [sculptures] collapse during the contest because we push the limit."

The sculptures must begin in the shape of a pyramid in order to stand without support. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

Lepire is known for his elaborate pieces.

One of his favourite creations was modelled after Cinderella's castle at Disney World and stood more than eight metres tall. 

Keeping it in the family 

Lepire comes from a family of sculptors.

His father, Michel, started out as a maître d'hôtel, carving ice sculptures to decorate wedding buffets. In 1996, he opened his own ice sculpting business. 

Lepire learned the craft from his dad, and the two began competing together in both ice and sand sculpting competitions around the world.

Father and son picked up new skills and techniques at international competitions to enhance their elaborate creations (they learned the peanut butter jar trick from a Russian competitor).

Whenever Lepire vacations, he can’t help packing his sand-sculpting tools including paintbrushes, shovels and pails. (Jessa Runciman/CBC )

Lepire's father died a year and a half ago, but the carving trade will remain in the family: Lepire is now passing the craft down to his son, Matthew. 

"Matthew is not bad at it, and we work well together," Lepire said.  

Even when Lepire is on vacation, he doesn't take time off from sculpting.

"I prefer to bring my tools over my clothes on vacation," he laughed. 

He just returned from a trip to Mexico, where he filled his suitcase with tools for building in the sand. 

"I am still a kid, but the sandbox is bigger than me now," Lepire said.

With files from Jessa Runciman


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