“It has become a beloved part of the community,” author Ryan McCord says of the Snowcastle and its related festival.
Bill Braden photo.

For 26 years, Yellowknifers have looked forward to snow slides and ice sculptures down by Yellowknife Bay.

Each year, the Snowcastle evolves to answer festival-goers inevitable question of, what’s different this year? 

In a new Snowcastle book, writer Ryan McCord and photographer Bill Braden document the stories of those evolutions. Bound between 88 pages, the book chronicles the castle’s inception, the structure’s construction and the community the festival forms among builders and visitors alike.  

A new book on the Snowcastle delves into the history of the winter festival, its evolution and how it has become an icon of Yellowknife. Photo courtesy of Sara Minogue.

McCord, known for his Yellowknife country music, recalls discovering the Snowking cutting ice panels shortly after McCord’s arrival in 2003. When his curiosity drove him to approach the monarch, McCord was quickly put to work and he spent the better part of that winter building. Upon moving to Yellowknife, McCord said he knew no one, but that quickly changed. 

“It’s fair to say that the Snowcastle played a huge part in helping me to establish community in Yellowknife,” McCord said.  

The Snowcastle seeds were planted in 1993 when Snowking Anthony Foliot and Scott Mitchell contributed their skills to a snow fort the neighbourhood kids were building. When the kids tired and abandoned the project, only the adults remained. What transpired was an extraordinary structure with flags and a small open fire for heating tea. 

By 1996, the fort became a proper castle. Five years later, the team had amassed a group of volunteers and secured funding from the city as well as donations from Yellowknife businesses. 

As the years went on and the crew honed their technique, the festival incorporated concerts and dances to build an event larger in stature and structure. 

“It has become a beloved part of the community,” McCord said. 

Braden describes the book as a record of something really special and unique. 

“It opens the festival up, opens up the way it’s done, the creativity and the thinking and the energy and the heart and the devotion that people have to building this thing,” Braden said. “It’s really remarkable when you go down and look at it and think, ‘How did they do this? Why did they do this?’ 

“At -35 C day after day after day, the spirit that’s there among the people who build this is really a remarkable thing.” 

The new Snowking book, which also features the work of local photographers Fran Hurcomb, Pat Kane and Stephan Folkers, is for sale at the Yellowknife Book Cellar and the Snowcastle Merch Shack as of March 6. 

In lieu of a book launch, McCord and Braden will be available to sign books outside the Yellowknife Book Cellar on March 7 from 2-3 p.m.

Although Covid precautions have transformed this year’s Snowcastle to an open air snowgarden, “the creativity and passion that goes into it is the same,” Braden said. 

The 2021 festival is now open and Yellowknifers are asked to book their free tickets in advance to keep the garden at safe capacities. 

While festivals throughout the pandemic year have cancelled events or gone virtual, Braden said Snowcastle crews refused to quit. 

“I hope that everyone in town takes the time to book ahead and come down and see this is is a remarkable thing,” he said.

Natalie Pressman

Reporting courts and cops and general news, Natalie started with NNSL Media in 2020. Before moving to Yellowknife, Natalie worked as a community radio trainer in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First...

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