The De Beers Ice Carving Competition is a staple of Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree.

Photo by Keith MacNeill. From left: Philip Careen, Mackinley Moore, Patrick Meloche, and Don Finnamore harvesting ice on March 9 ahead of the Long John Jamboree.

Year after year, carvers from around the globe flock to Great Slave Lake to turn the massive blocks of ice into frozen works of art.

The twelve ice blocks for this year’s competition were pulled out of Yellowknife Bay on March 9, said Keith MacNeill, ice carving co-ordinator for the Long John Jamboree.

“Last year we cut twenty-two or twenty-three because we had fifteen teams competing,” he said.

“This year we just have seven teams competing.”

They had to scale things back a bit this year after losing a whole day of revenue to a blizzard at last year’s Jamboree, MacNeill explained.

“We weren’t sure that we were going to be able to actually have a jamboree for a lot of the winter. And then our board worked really hard and we had some generous, compassionate sponsors who kicked in a little bit of support to make it possible for us to go ahead this year.”

When it comes to cutting the ice, it’s best to start early, he said.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo. Keith MacNeill, Ice Carving Co-ordinator for the Long John Jamboree.

“What happens, as a rule, is we start at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning,” said MacNeill.

It usually takes the first half of the day to get the first block out and the second half of the day to get all the rest, he said.

“We just go a couple of clicks down Yellowknife Bay, pick a spot, drill a couple of test holes to make sure we’ve got a good three feet of ice.”

After they clear the snow off the ice, they mark the area and cut out an L-shaped margin using chainsaws, he explained.

“We have to have a way for the first block to float independently and then we get the chains underneath it and lift it out,” said MacNeill.

“Once we’ve got the first one out then there’s lots of room to cut more, and they can float around. If you just cut a hole in the ice there’s no way to get underneath it.”

A team of eight volunteers helped out with ice cutting and retrieval ahead of this year’s ice carving competition, MacNeill said.

“About four of whom operated the chainsaws and a bunch of others who take the ice tongs and pull the little pieces out as they come up, and that’s what creates the channel so that they can float,” he said.

Polar Tech provided the chainsaws and a team from Det’on Cho Construction also helped out with a forklift and a flatbed truck.

“They’re the guys who actually drop the chains, wrap them up and pull the ice out,” said MacNeill.

After being pulled from the lake, the ice blocks are strapped onto pallets, lifted onto the truck and brought to the Jamboree site to be stored until the festival.

Meaghan Richens/NNSL photo. A block of ice at the Long John Jamboree site. This particular block will be used for the ice bar, said the Jamboree’s Ice Carving Coordinator Keith MacNeill.

Over the years the Jamboree has established a good relationship with the international ice carving community, said MacNeill.

“Which is a pretty small group of people that do this,” he said. “One thing that they like is to carve the big blocks.”

Only a few competitions in the world offer large and naturally frozen ice blocks for carvers to work on said MacNeill, so that makes this competition unique.

“Most ice carving competitions, if you go to Ice on Whyte in Edmonton or Winterlude in Ottawa, they all use manufactured ice,” he said.

“It actually is made with a process in the freezer that keeps it as clear as possible as it freezes.”

This year’s carvers will include some world champions and returning veterans from past competitions.

“It’s a good field and I’m excited to see what comes out,” said MacNeill.

This year’s ice carving competition runs from March 28-30.

Judging is at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 30.

Meaghan Richens

Meaghan Richens is from Ottawa, Ont., and grew up in Perth. She moved to Yellowknife in May 2018 after completing her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Carleton University. She writes about politics,...

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