Gargoyle Carving 101


Gargoyles….love  them. Spent a good hunk of time last winter photographing them in France and the UK. And I love snow…so Gargoyle 101 was obviously made for me. This is the week before Yellowknife’s Snow King Festival begins, so it’s pretty busy down on the ice. Snow King volunteer, Lady Icicle offered the 3 hour course with the carrot of actually having your own gargoyle gracing the turrets of the castle. What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Armed with a hack saw, paint scraper, 2 knives and 2 chisels, I trotted off to the castle. The day was sunny, bright and about minus 20 with only a little breeze. To be on the safe side (having learned from bitter experience), I wore my minus 40 outfit.

Five eager virgin snow carvers were armed and ready to work. After minimal instruction from Lady Icicle (looking at drawings, encouraging us to just go for it etc.) we leapt right in. As usual, I leapt way too fast. I attacked the flat face of my snow brick with glee. It was only about 30 minutes later that I noticed that everyone else was attacking from a corner, to make the gargoyle more 3 dimensional. One look at my gargoyle/cat and it was obvious that I was having trouble with this 3 dimensional thing. It was also obvious that my only carving experience has been with pumpkins. Well, what do you expect, I’m a photographer.

I decided to be mature about this, so instead of smashing my gargoyle (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Garfield), I soldiered on. Around me, some pretty amazing gargoyles were starting to emerge from their snow cocoons. The warm up shack (with cocoa and cookies) was in steady use, but for the most part, we were all quiet and focused. This snow carving is fun.

In the background, the sound of a dozen or so snow castle workers provided a soundtrack of hammering, sawing etc. Site visitors commented on our work and snapped photos. Small children seemed to like my offering. On a suggestion from a member of the Snow King’s crew, my gargoyle got a second snow block and morphed into a sphinx. In fact, I believe he will probably end up being a bench for small children in some obscure corner of the site. Oh well, my aspirations of having a magnificent gargoyle gracing the towers are dashed for now. But don’t despair. I’m not giving up. Anyone can make a snow block (pile up snow; leave overnight to settle; cut with saw). I’ll try again. But first I might head back to the castle to fix the front legs of Garfield/gargoyle/sphinx.

Lady Icicle discusses the merits of a snow block with a neophyte carver

Trying to decide where to start was our first problem.


Carving tools come in all shapes and sizes. My favourite was the paint scraper.


Where else can you use a machete with wild abandon?

No Sue ! Don't do it.

Shapes began to emerge from the snow blocks.

My Garfield gargoyle was destined to become a sphinx.

Our little group carved away, while in the background, the Snow King's castle was undergoing the finishing touches.

Finer detail work was done with the small chisels and knives.

This Cheshire cat gargoyle was particularly menacing.

Lady Icicle's evil flying monkey will strike terror into the hearts of even the most stalwart villains...and that is the point of gargoyles, I think.

Four hours after starting, our Vancouver Island visitor was chilly but pleased with the outcome of the afternoon.

And as for my effort...let's just say I have learned from my mistakes. My next gargoyle will be epic!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

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

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

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

Gallery | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Puppy Rampage

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Beautiful Morning

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments