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Posted at: Jan 20, 2019, 12:37 AM; last updated: Jan 20, 2019, 12:37 AM (IST)

Colours on the white canvas

When there is no escaping the snow, Canadians begin to celebrate it. Indian immigrants raise a toast as well

Peeyush Agnihotri

When life gives you snow, make a snowman out of it — a Canadian squeeze to the lemon-lemonade phrase. It’s much more than snowman on the white ground.  Ice sculptures, light festival, axe-throw contest, log-cutting match, fashion show, culinary competition, winter sports, torchlight walk, dog sledge, gigantic maze. Hic wait! Even beer. Canada is a huge chillout wonderland. A country that remains in Lohri spirit throughout the winter.

For the record, it’s officially winter from December 21 up to March 21. But have the weather gods ever caredabout the man-made calendar? Or has a Canadian ever cared about the weather, for that matter? Nah! Festivities start with Christmas lights and related events in December. Instead of climaxing at the New Year, they rather pick up after that. 

Each province has a kind of signature event — Ice Magic Festival in Alberta, Montreal En Lumiere in Quebec, Festival du Voyageur in Manitoba, Beer Craft festival and Festival of Lights in Ontario — being some of them. These besides, some one-off events which don’t happen every year. For example, a gigantic 2,300 sqm of snow maze in Manitoba that is vying for the world record currently, . The maze located about 25 km south of downtown Winnipeg near St. Adolphe takes around 45 minutes to an hour to go through.

For regular events happening around Canada, dates are set. The footfall is massive. South Asians, who form around four per cent of Canada’s population, are avid visitors to such winter activities, more as spectators than active participants. “I came to Calgary from Vancouver for the new year. I plan to hang around a few more weeks and see the Ice Magic festival at Lake Louise (almost 180 km from Calgary) before heading back,” says Harmeet Nagra, a catering graduate on study visa in Canada. Indian immigrants might not actively participate in winter sports, but their count in spectators runs into hundreds. And where it is about scenic beauty, you know the Indians will be there for sure, taking pictures to share them with folks back home. 

Ice Magic Festival, Alberta, starts from January 16 and goes on up to January 27. World-class ice carvers travel from far and wide in order to compete in this event. Located on the shores of Lake Louise, the festival can be complimented with a day of winter activities in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, such as skating on Lake Louise, snowshoeing on the frozen water or dining at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  “This year is special as the festival completes 25 years. The competitors have been challenged to construct iconic carvings to celebrate the silver anniversary of one of the world’s best ice festivals. Ten teams have been invited to transform 15 blocks of ice into epic masterpieces,” says John Doherty, Communications and Media Coordinator of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism. 

Moving a bit away from the prairies, Quebec is hosting Montreal en Lumiere (Montreal Festival of Lights) from February 21 up to March 3. Billed as a celebration of light, food and culture, there are more than 100 performing arts events, across music, dance and visual arts. Top chefs and winemakers from around the world gather for wine-and-dine experience.  

If wine calls the shots in Quebec, beer hops in neighbouring Ontario. Toronto is set to host Wintercraft Beer Festival on January 26. The festival is usually a mix of brew, campfire, dance, games and retro ski gear display. As for the demographics of the diverse visitors, the organisers say that the festival is very grassroots and they don’t keep such figures. It’s sheer fun, open to all. “There is a simple truth about craft beer in Ontario — when people get to try it, they love it. That’s what makes events, festivals and gatherings so important to our industry and enjoyable for those who attend,” says Scott Simmons, president, Ontario Craft Brewers.

For sober ones, Winter Festival of Lights is currently on up to January 31 at Niagara Falls. As a treasured holiday tradition for people from around the world, the festival is attended by over one million visitors each season. Spotlights illuminate the waterfalls. Concerts, performances and fireworks add to the festivities. Then there is a mammoth of a festival called Winterlude held in the national capital region of Ottawa and Gatineau. Managed by the Department of Canadian Heritage, Winterlude draws over half-a-million people along the Rideau Canal. It’s famous for ice-skating shows, triathlon and much more.

Any interest in canoeing down the frigid river? Head to Carnaval de Quebec, Quebec City, from February 8 up to 17. Some 60 teams square off over the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence River, competing in one of four categories: Elite Men’s, Elite Women’s, Competitive and Sports. Other competitions include dog sled and sleigh racing. Events get racy when thousands descend for the night paradeled by mascot Bonhomme Carnaval. A masquerade ball is also one of the major attractions.

Far away in Yukon, the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous will be held this year from February 8 to 24. A sourdough is the name given to anyone who has braved a complete Yukon winter, from the “freeze up to the thaw.” Axe toss and chainsaw chuckform a part of the festivity.

The winter comes and goes but the fun quotient lingers. That’s why events keep happening way beyond March. Toonik Tyme, Iqaluit, is celebrated in April to mark the return of the sun to Nunavut. Competitions include igloo building and traditional outdoor games. Not to forget, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler, British Columbia, recognised as the largest annual winter sports and music festival in North America. It’s happening from April 10 to April 14 this year.

It’s all merriment. The weather is frigid and the frost hangs around, but the Canadian spirit remains warm, exuberant and sporty. For them snow happens — better like it.

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