In November I Call Him ‘Ice King’

Yellowknife’s Snow King is a well known guy about town. From December through February, he is busy building a huge snow castle on the ice of Yellowknife Bay. In March, the month long Snow King Festival is visited by almost everyone in town. But what does he do in November….when the bay is frozen but there isn’t enough snow to start building? He collects ice, that’s what.

Ice King collects ice for the windows of his snow castle…. about 40 windows in all, in blocks  5 or 6 inches thick and about 2 feet high by 3 feet long. He saws the fresh ice with a giant ice saw and stacks the window blocks carefully to await construction. This year Ice King has a new ice saw, courtesy of Dave Smith, who salvaged it over 30 years ago from the old, derelict, Gros Cap fish plant ice house. The fish plant, located in Devil’s Channel about 80 km south of Yellowknife, operated as a fish processing plant in the 1950’s. Ice was cut in the spring and stored in the sawdust filled icehouse to keep the fish fresh in early summer.

Once the windows have been collected, the Ice King continues sawing for a few days, “just for fun”. He arranges the pieces artistically in “ice gardens”. This is where I usually come in. Every year I spend hours photographing these ice scultpures, trying to capture some of the tiny, frozen universes trapped in the free standing ice.

Now, in late November, the ice is getting too thick to handle easily. Ice King is finished for the year. Long live Snow King.

Ice King saws blocks of ice from frozen Great Slave Lake.

Constant shovelling is required to keep the ice surface smooth.


The ice is about 5 inches thick.

Ice blocks are removed from the water with giant tongs.

The blocks are heavy and slippery.


Some people arrange flowers, some arrange ice.


Blocks are cemented into place with water.

Captured air bubbles create tiny, perfect galaxies.

And up comes the sun, glowing through the Ice King's frozen garden.

Thanks Ice King

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Cowboy Weekend

This gallery contains 16 photos.

     When I was about 6, I dreamed of being a Cowgirl and/or Indian, riding across the prairies on my pony. I had the hat, the chaps and the boots – everything I needed in fact, except the pony. When … Continue reading

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Puppy Rampage

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Beautiful Morning

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Hay River Here We Come


It was the second weekend in July and I felt the need for a weekend roadtrip. So did my friend Ros. Where to go….? According to my mini-jobette at CBC North, I am supposed to have my finger on “the pulse of the arts, North of 60”, so a festival was in order. Obvious choice, Hay Days in Hay River NT.

Hay River is a small town of about 3000 souls on the south shore of Great Slave Lake…about a 5 hour drive. Perfect mini road trip. Even better, we could spend the night 300 km down the road in Fort Providence at my next door neighbours’ new house.

So off we went, dawdling along. Photo ops were everywhere. Just getting out of Yellowknife was a photo op. You got yer bison, yer forest fires, yer bridges and yer ferries. What more could a photographer want??

Hay River was even better. We were there ostensibly to take in the festival, but of course, I was obsessed with derelict boats and buildings, so spent much time along the docks of the mighty Hay River. Camped at the Territorial campground on the beach of Great Slave Ocean south. I had forgotten what a sandy beach was like. Looking out, I felt like I could be in PEI…nothing but water….no islands, no visible land, just gentle waves breaking over sandbars.

On day 2, we even outwitted the fancy sound system in the car by barking verbal orders at it. Music blasting, we headed home, back to the land of pink granite. I was amazed at how much I found to photograph along the road. Maybe I am getting over my water obsession. Excellent mini roadtrip.

View from the middle of the Frank's Channel Bridge near Behchoko. Very scary spot to stand. The bridge is narrow and rusty and I feared decapitation by one of the big trucks. The things one does for "art".

Where are we....the U.S. Southwest or Fort Providence, NT?

Our infamous “bridge to nowhere”…north side of the Mackenzie river.


                                                                  South side of said bridge

                              Part of Hay River’s commercial fishing fleet.

Fish for sale in the West Channel, home to many of Hay River’s commercial fishermen.
One of the many fishing boats sitting on the dock in Hay River. The fishing industry is slowly dying.
The beach is lovely. Runs along the mouth of the Hay River where it empties into Great Slave Lake.

                 What’s out there anyway? It’s like looking out into the ocean.
A sad sight . An old NTCL tug rusts away in the Old Town of Hay River. Imagine where it has been.
A little wooden tugboat parked in the willows.
Well known fiddler Richard Lafferty was one of the dozens of musicians providing entertainment at the festival.
An amazing collection of concrete statues greets visitors to the West Channel. Do I really need a garden gnome?
This fellow had driven his Harley from Ottawa in 6 days. Said this was the first sunshine he had seen!
Need a haircut? Brian’s mobile barber shop, pictured here near Fort Providence, might be just the ticket.
OK. Now what?
Really, somebody should paint this bridge!!
Wild strawberries were everywhere….little miniature bursts of tasty perfection.
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The Wildcat Cafe: rebirth 2011

The Wildcat in the mid 1950's when it was a storage shed.

The Wildcat Cafe was built in Yellowknife NWT in 1937 by Willie Wylie and Smokey Stout. It was one of the first eating establishment in the newly founded mining town and quickly became an integral part of the growing community. It was later bought by Carl and Dorothy Jensen and then Mah Gow, who ran it until 1949 when its doors closed, probably because of  a mass migration of residents “up the hill” to New Town. It was used as a storage house until the mid 1970’s when plans to tear it down were brought up by the Town Council.

In 1976, a group of Yellowknife residents quickly formed the Old Stope Association, a loosely knit organization mainly dedicated to saving the Wildcat. After 2 long years of volunteer efforts, the Wildcat re-opened for business in the summer of 1979.

Although the building was fundamentally the same, the staff and general ambience of the new Wildcat night have raised a few eyebrows with Wiley, Stout et al, had they been around to re-visit. Long hair, strange music and a very relaxed attitude to service dominated the first few summers. Gradually, the Old Stope Association developed the Cafe into a more organized and increasingly popular summer eatery.

The Wildcat has been recognized across Canada as a great place to eat and meet northerners. The Old Stope returned control of the Wildcat back to the City of Yellowknife in 1992, when it was designated an official Heritage Site, and since then several different management teams have run the cafe. In 2011, the City decided that it was time to completely renovate the log building, which had settled far into the ground and was leaning precariously in several directions at once. Rick Muyres of Norman Wells, the premier log buildier in the NWT, was hired to dismantle and then rebuild the Wildcat over the summer. With the help of Yellowknifers Andrew Spauling and Anthony Foliot, the building has now been completely taken apart, the pieces catalogued and numbered and made ready for reassembly.

The following photos show the painstaking dis-assembly process, which started on May 11. By June 4, the building was gone. Stay tuned to see how it all goes back together.

Work began on the roof on May 11.

Under the roofing were over 200 small spruce poles which were carefully removed and numbered.

Constuction detail of the wall and roof.

Andrew Spaulding removing the chimney. May 12

Piece by piece the roof was removed. May 13


The ever elusive Rick - in stripes.

May 14. Open to the air.

Anthony Foliot carefully removes the poles covering the chinking between the logs. May 14

Moss was the main chinking material used in the original construction.

The end wall with roof beam and twisted "oakum" which also filled the spaces between the logs.

Rick Muyers removing a log. May 16


All of the logs and poles were numbered so that they can be put back in the same order.

Most of the dining room is gone. The kitchen will be the next victim. May 17.

The bar. Burlap bags were also used to keep the winds from whistling through the cracks between the logs.

First the dining room went, then the kitchen. May 25

Many of the logs are stored across the road.

June 5. All gone. Now it's time to rebuild. Stay tuned.

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Down it Comes

Last month, my partner Dave decided to tear down his old shack in Old Town Yellowknife. It really wasn’t safe any more for anyone. Instead of hiring some heavy equipment to do the job, he decided to dismantle the building piece by piece. He hired the Essery brothers, Buddy and Raymond, and Adam Cassaway to tear it apart. Tear it apart they did, over 10 days, using crowbars and chainsaws. It was quite a production and attracted most of the neighbourhood as walls were opened and secrets revealed.

We discovered that it was built in 1942 by Carl Jensen, a local contractor. The frame was still solid, but the insulation was a bit outdated….wood shavings and peat moss, which had settled over 60 years to the bottom half of the walls, leaving the top of the building with empty walls. No wonder it was so damn cold. Newspaper, magazines and cardboard boxes supplied another layer of protection and the building was sheathed in shiplap and covered by insulbrick.

We estimate that about 100 people lived here over the past 60 years. Our earliest confirmed tenants so far are the Demelt family who bought the house in 1953. Many memories are associated with the shack. For instance, we brought our newborn daughter, Kathleen, home to this shack in May of 1990 while we waited for the ice to break up on the Bay so that we could return to our houseboat.

We discovered that in fact, walls do talk. These walls told us lots about the era and about the people who made the North, and Yellowknife their home, in the early days. These are a few of the photos taken over the past month.

Even demolition can pop.

A lobster party at the shack in 1983. The lobsters were in the back of the Suzuki pickup.

Time to start. The porch is already gone.

Buddy, Dave and Raymond - starting the process

Raymond pries the shiplap off the wall. What will he find?

Shavings, peat moss and newspaper

...and an old carton for dog food. Who ate dog food? of the few types of pop available that long ago.

Raymond with his favourite movie star.

Buddy....Mr. Chainsaw.

Of course, Campbells Soup had to be there too.


The crew....ready to destroy !!

Off comes the roof.

In the kitchen...a rainbow of primary colours.

The living room...with paneling from the Devil's Channel fish plant.

Now it's gone. Buddy, Raymond and Adam rake up the site. For now, it will be a small community garden. Sadly, another piece of our past has disappeared.

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