Winter Fun in Edmonton – Part I

My last post covered the holiday theme of our rotating exhibit, Winter and Holiday Fun in Edmonton. Now, in a two part post, I’m going to look at the winter fun theme. I’ll also look at the new WinterCity Strategy and illustrate what the City of Edmonton Archives can offer to help achieve its goals. The Strategy recently asked Edmontonians to think of ways to embrace winter. The results, and a plan for going forward, have been released in the document For the Love of Winter: Strategy for Transforming Edmonton into a World-Leading Winter City.

Of course, Edmontonians have always had to deal with life in a winter city, as can be seen by the number of winter related images in the City of Edmonton Archives’ catalogue. Some of my favorites, like the image below, were taken for feature stories for the Edmonton Bulletin newspaper. These images make me realize just how much technology has made my life in the winter easier. Many things that are often taken for granted now were more problematic in the past, laundry day for example. What do you do when you don’t have a dryer?

EA-600-3689b “Wash Day Problem” January 24, 1950 This lady seems to be coping with the cold but the dog can’t wait to get inside.

EA-600-3689b “Wash Day Problem” January 24, 1950 This lady seems to be coping with the cold but the dog can’t wait to get inside.

EA-9-340 “Secord House” c. 1915 (this image is actually from a postcard) The house was home to the Edmonton Art Gallery from 1952-1967

EA-9-340 “Secord House” c. 1915 (this image is actually from a postcard) The house was home to the Edmonton Art Gallery from 1952-1967

As demonstrated by the image above, transportation is another aspect of life in winter that has changed a great deal. Interestingly though, in Edmonton’s early days, travel was usually easier in winter than in summer. I’d rather fly over the snow by dog sled or in a horse drawn sleigh than struggle through mud or breathe all the dust thrown up by a bumpy wagon on a dirt road. Especially considering the work I would have to do cleaning my clothes afterwards.

But has technology taken us too far? Have we made it too easy to isolate ourselves in little indoor pockets of warmth (whether a car or West Edmonton Mall), removing ourselves from truly experiencing winter? Some people think so, and they’re behind the new WinterCity Strategy. As noted by John Mahon and Tammy Fallowfield, Winter Life Hub Co-Chairs, “…we have, as a community…allowed barriers, of attitude and lifestyle, to reduce winter to a drab stereotype” (For the Love of Winter, p. 14). The Strategy is aimed at changing this.

I can think of any number of ways that the City of Edmonton Archives supports the goals of the WinterCity Strategy. Many records at the Archives provide evidence of how Edmonton has functioned as a winter city in the past. This evidence can inform decisions on how to “Provide More Opportunities for Outdoor Activity” (Goal 1) or how to “Incorporate Urban Design Elements for Winter Fun, Activity, Beauty and Interest” (Goal 4). The records at the Archives can show what has worked in the past as well as what didn’t. Where the Archives would really shine though is in the fourth set of goals, those relating to Our Winter Story:

  • Goal 8 – Celebrate the Season and Embrace Daily Living in a Cold Climate
  • Goal 9 – Promote Edmonton’s Great Northern Story Locally, Nationally and Internationally
  • Goal 10 – Kick Start and Lead Implementation of Edmonton’s WinterCity Strategy: Apply a ‘Winter Lens’ to Our City

When I started looking for evidence in the Archives of Edmontonians embracing winter I found so much material I actually had to stop so that I could get this blog post written while it still is winter. One day, we may go further with this subject with a winter themed virtual exhibit. For now, I have a two part blog. Today I’m focusing on daily life and winter festivals, the next post will feature images of winter activities and sports in Edmonton.

One of the earliest references we have to a winter event is a 1923 Winter Carnival Souvenir Program (see the scans below). I take the First Annual Winter Carnival statement on the cover with a grain of salt though as most things I found claimed to be the first of their kind. This program features articles like “A Brief History of Edmonton” and “Edmonton and its Sports” which concludes that “…it would be difficult to find a more athletic loving people than the folks in the City of Edmonton.”

Front cover of a 1923 Winter Carnival Souvenir Program from MS-273 H. Kroetch Collection

Front cover of a 1923 Winter Carnival Souvenir Program from MS-273 H. Kroetch Collection

Back cover of a 1923 Winter Carnival Souvenir Program from MS-273 H. Kroetch Collection. An early example of both the economic opportunities that come with winter festivities and the importance of appropriate winter wear

Back cover of a 1923 Winter Carnival Souvenir Program from MS-273 H. Kroetch Collection. An early example of both the economic opportunities that come with winter festivities and the importance of appropriate winter wear

Week long carnivals were even held through the difficult Depression years and there is a fair amount of material on them in the RG-11 Commissioners fonds. In 1935, volunteers from twenty-two Community Leagues ran a winter carnival (with some help from the City) that had three hundred children competing in various winter sports. Organizers in 1937 planned for an ice palace to be built by relief labor and for a “Moonlight Parade” down Jasper Avenue. A letter to the City asked if the street lights along the route could be turned off for the duration of the parade, stating that businesses had already agreed to darken their stores. Lighting was provided by volunteers with flares.

The City saw winter carnivals as economic opportunities and in 1937 attempts were made to bring people to Edmonton from the surrounding areas. In addition to newspaper ads, a series of promotional announcements were aired on the CFRN radio station. For example, the script for a February 17, 1937 announcement is, “Come to Edmonton for the Winter Fair. The bus and railroads have reduced rates. There is fun for all, and buying opportunities galore. All roads lead to Edmonton.” I found a $30 invoice from the Sunwapta Broadcasting Co. Ltd. to the City for twenty-six announcements similar to this one.

EA-226-8 “McKernan Community League Carnival Queens” c. 1939 We have quite a few images of Carnival Queens, usually associated with a Community League

EA-226-8 “McKernan Community League Carnival Queens” c. 1939 We have quite a few images of Carnival Queens, usually associated with a Community League

The importance of knowing how to dress for the cold came up several times in my research into winter festivities. The people in the image above seem a little chilly but the little girl below has dressing for winter all figured out.

EA-600-3461a “Bunny Stewart in cold weather with her dog” December 12, 1949 The building in the background was originally the Jesuit College. It became the first Charles Camsell Hospital and was demolished in 1967.

EA-600-3461a “Bunny Stewart in cold weather with her dog” December 12, 1949 The building in the background was originally the Jesuit College. It became the first Charles Camsell Hospital and was demolished in 1967.

In the 1960s the main winter festival was the Muk-Luk Mardi Gras which ran until 1968. After this, there were several attempts to get a winter festival going, especially in the 1980s starting with a brief revival of the Muk-Luk Mardi Gras. More research is needed as it’s difficult to tell a rebranded festival from a new one. Other events include the Snowflake Fantasy Carnival and the Labatt’s Lite Ice Lantern Festival. This festival featured ice carvers from Harbin,China and coincided with the twinning of Harbin and Edmonton.  One of the lasting legacies of the twinning is the Chinese Friendship Gate at 102 Avenue and 97 Street.

This is just a brief look at ways the records at the City of Edmonton Archives can complement and inform the goals of the WinterCity Strategy. The winter fun continues with my next post about winter sports and activities in Edmonton. It will feature images like the one below. I’m almost sure that the tobogganer didn’t hit anybody. It looks like a near miss though!

EA-20-4759 Sledding at Victoria Park c. 1968

EA-20-4759 Sledding at Victoria Park c. 1968

Sources:

Clippings files:

  • Festivals: Winter Festivals
  • Muk-Luk Mardi Gras
  • Parades

EA-9 Richard York Secord
EA-20 Community Services / Parks & Recreation
EA-226 Jack Manson
EA-600 Edmonton Bulletin

For the Love of Winter: Strategy for Transforming Edmontoninto a World-Leading Winter City (PDF)

Kuban, Ron Edmonton’s Urban Villages: The Community League Movement
MS-273 H. Kroetch collection
RG-11 Commissioners fonds

Wondering what a fonds is? Check out our glossary.

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About the Author
Elizabeth Walker
Elizabeth has a Masters of Archival Studies from UBC and she’s been the City’s digital archivist since September 2010. She’s passionate about outreach and increasing engagement between the Archives and the community.
3 Comments
  1. 5 years ago

    Hello Elizabeth. Thanks so much for this great blog on winter in Edmonton! The photos and historical/archival perspective on how Edmontonians have embraced winter over the years is not only important, but is fun to read. As you say , you can also help provide “evidence of how Edmotnon has functioned as a citner city in the past”.

    You made some great connections to our WinterCity Strategy and I hope our WinterCity Coordinator, Susan Holdsworth, will be in touch with you about that idea for a virtual display using the many photos you’ve found!! Looking forward to Part Two, Elizabeth!

  2. […] Jamie Pratt and Elizabeth Walker, a City Archivist involved in planning Edmonton’s Winter City Strategy. Jamie is another frequent guest on Terra Informa, and a big fan of bison, snails, and […]

  3. […] The first business I thought of was a homegrown store that I’ve come across many times in my research for these posts – Johnstone Walker Limited, “Edmonton’s Own Store.” I featured one of their advertisements in the Winter Fun blog. […]

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