Behind the Scenes of Sage Creek’s Festival du Voyageur Snow Sculpture

Qualico Communities is proud to be a major sponsor of Festival du Voyageur, taking place this February 12-21, 2016. Festival is a great opportunity to get outside, have fun in the snow, and explore Manitoba’s rich cultural history. To show our support, Qualico Communities has commissioned a snow sculpture in Sage Creek seven years in a row.

To give you a little insight into the snow sculpting process, we interviewed artist and sculptor 
David McNair, a member of the artists group G4, who conceptualized and carved the snow sculpture. David has memories of Festival Du Voyageur dating back over 45 years and has been involved in snow carving for the past 30 years. G4 was out carving this past weekend (January 30-31) where we caught up with David.

How did you get into snow carving?

It started back in elementary school, although back in the day it was really slush sculpting. You were given a place to build a wooden form, and then used chicken wire to build out a design skeleton – you would then mix up slush, pack it in and make your snow sculpture.

That was my start I guess, but it was about 30 years ago that Réal Bérard, a Franco-Manitoban artist and sculptor, introduced us to carving sculptures out of packed snow blocks. After learning from Réal, me and some guys from art school decided to form a team (G4) and we’ve been together ever since.

What are the unique challenges you face working with snow?

The first thing you’re concerned with is whether it’s nice and clean, and is it packed well? Sometimes you’ll find a little air pocket in the structure and you need to change up your design a bit on the fly. It really all depends on the temperature, and how the weather is right up until we make the blocks. If it gets mild and then cold again, the humidity is taken away and it doesn’t compact well. It’s different every time, but the guys at Festival really know their stuff and they build really good snow blocks.

Another thing that we’re careful with, especially if you’re competing in a contest or international symposium, is to be very conscious of the south sun which is very strong here in Winnipeg. If you have a lot of details in your piece, you have to face them north/northwest instead of south where the sun will chew it up faster.

How long have you been working on the sculptures in Sage Creek?

As a team, we do several sculptures every season including the one at the Festival Park entrance. We’ve been doing the Sage Creek snow sculptures for about seven years now. The first couple we did were right in Sage Creek, but a few years ago we moved it to Bishop and Lagimodière which gives it more visibility.

Where do you find inspiration for the designs?

The first question is whether there’s something special going on. Is there a theme to the Festival? Is there something on a political or national level to take into account? A few years ago there was a gentleman who passed away who was a fiddler who came to Festival often, so we based our theme on the hat he used to wear. We come up with ideas, then one of the guys in the group sketches it up and we go from there.

What’s the plan for this year’s sculpture?

This year there isn’t a full theme that works well into a snow design, so we’re going with an eagle. Eagles are migratory – in the fall they gather in a few areas around Winnipeg and then head south. Right around Festival time we’ll often see an eagle come back, and sure enough last week while carving on Provencher we saw one glide past. So we said, why not do an eagle? We think it will make a great impact at this location.

What has the experience been like working in Sage Creek?

I think that what Qualico does to bring Festival into their communities is fantastic. I think what they do is amazing for the community and the people. Now that we’re carving at Bishop and Lag, it’s not as conducive to people stopping, but there are often people walking by on the trails. Last year it was very very cold, and a little boy came out of his car and gave us a Tim Hortons coffee. They were watching us all weekend and wanted to bring us a hot coffee, it was so nice!

Why is Festival such an important event here in Manitoba?

First off, it’s part of our history: the Métis, First Nations, Francophone and English, it really touches on all of Manitoba’s history. It touches on voyageur history, the Red River, Northwest Company and Hudson Bay Company. For people interested in Canada’s history, it’s a great opportunity.

And another thing that’s interesting about Festival is that it encompasses all kinds of ways to explore and enjoy Manitoba’s past including art, food and history. Plus, winter can be very long here, and when Festival comes around people know that winter is almost through. It’s really a time for festivities. Hé ho spring is next!