Winter Fun in Saskatchewan
Skiing, dog sledding, and skating are a few ways to engage with the snow and fresh air in Saskatchewan.
As the sun sets, the cold winter wind bites our noses and cheeks, but there’s excitement in the air as the Northern Saskatchewan Rivers Scouts carry their torches through the streets of Prince Albert in the torchlight parade.
They made the torches earlier that day, and now they carry them carefully, respectful of the responsibility of being trusted with fire. At the end of the road, down by the riverbank, a huge pile of dry Christmas trees wait, ready to flare up into a bonfire.
The bonfire brings us warmth and light and a place to gather together in the cold. There’s something deeply satisfying in gathering around a fire in the middle of winter; it’s an ancient ritual in northern climes, one that anyone who lives in a winter city can relate to.
Saskatchewan is most definitely a winter province. Last year, much of the it saw record snowfall and the coldest spring in 100 years. Snow stayed on the ground for more than six months in Saskatoon.
But there’s still a sense here that the best way to deal with winter is to escape, says Lenore Swystun, founder of Prairie Wild Consulting. Swystun and her team are starting to ask a new question, though: “How can we embrace it?”
Prairie Wild Consulting helps communities create district and official community plans—comprehensive policy documents to give communities a guide to follow for 25 or more years. As community planners, they’re well versed in the importance of organizing for winter, and the importance of winter events like festivals.
Winter festivals brighten the long, cold season. It seems nearly every community in the province has a winter festival of some kind, from the Prince Albert Winter Festival and its torchlight parade, to Wintershines in Saskatoon, to the Dickens Village Festival in Carlyle where the town transforms into a scene from the 1800s.
“It can be minus 25, and they’re out there,” said Swystun of the Dickens Village Festival. “You think you have to wait for summer, but we don’t; there are lots of things we can do in the winter.”
Danny Roy, a regional and community planner with Prairie Wild Consulting, comes from Ile-a-la-Crosse, and he says that his community celebrates the traditional aspects of winter at their festival, with activities like wood sawing or making snare traps. The lake that surrounds the community freezes, creating perfect terrain for snowmobiling and ice fishing.
“Lots of people not only accept the cold but also embrace it,” said Roy.
Ryan Walker, associate professor of urban planning at the U of S, says that festivals are important to helping northern communities embrace the cold weather because during the winter, programming takes on more importance. During the summer, people will use the public spaces whether or not there are planned public activities, but they’re less likely to do the same during colder months.
“[During the winter] you kind of have to program it in and help people see what’s going on and challenge them to try it out,” said Walker, who also says winter is his favourite season.
Festivals are a lot of fun, but there’s more that can be done to make winter cities enjoyable. Some of Walker’s ideas include creating destinations like the skating rink by the Bessborough in Saskatoon, where they’ve also built a warming building; opening a year-round concession; clearing bicycle lanes to encourage winter biking; heating transit shelters; and including more colours and light in design.
For the full story find Ashleigh Mattern's article "Bill and the Brand that Broke the West", page 19, in the Winter 2013 issue of Prairies North Magazine.
About the Author: Ashleigh Mattern is a full-time freelance writer and copy editor based in Saskatoon. She works as a journalist, copywriter, and copy editor, specializing in arts and culture projects.
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