Chipping away at history

Jeffrey Lao, a ice carving instructor at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan, carving Han Solo frozen in a carbonate wall from Star Wars.

Jeffrey Lao, ice carving instructor at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan, carving Han Solo frozen in a carbonate wall from the Star Wars movie.


Frozen in Time warmed peoples hearts as it transformed Toronto into ancient Egypt at Bloor-Yorkville’s 10th annual Icefest last Saturday.

Excitement filled the cold streets as people admired the 200, 000 pounds of beautifully carved ice sculptures that stood gleaming in the light.

This year’s theme inspired ice sculptures of Egyptian gods Horus, Anubis, the goddess Isis and King Tut.

Most of the ice carvers stayed with the Egyptian theme, but some had a different interpretation of the concept of Frozen in Time, and incorporated other moments from the past.

“I carved Han Solo frozen in a carbonite wall, he’s a character out of the Star Wars movies,” said Jeffrey Lao, a ice carving instructor at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan.

“When it’s the People’s Choice competition you want to make sure it’s something that people recognize instantly because that usually ends up getting you a little more votes.”

Lao has been carving ice sculptures since 2009 and has participated in this competition for three years at Icefest.

The main attraction at the free festival was the 15th annual Sassafraz ice carving competition in the east side of the Village of Yorkville Park.

Spectators were showered by fluffy white snowflakes that rained down from the sky and flew off chainsaws as 12 talented ice carvers were hard at work bringing the past back to life.

“It was interesting to see the ice sculptures and watch the people sculpt the ice,” said Jennifer McKeon. “It was an amazing experience and not something that you get to see everyday.”

Competitors had three hours to create their sculptures out of 300-pound blocks of ice using a combination of the traditional ice carving tools.

The process began with a paper template being placed onto the ice block, and then a tool was used to carve a silhouette of the template’s design into the ice.

Once the outline was finished they started to layer areas to give it a more 3D visual effect and then the surface of the ice was smoothed down with a disk grinder. The last step was working on the fine details.

“I think starting is the hardest part of ice carving,” said Lisa Martin, a ice carver in the first year of the competition. “It’s sometimes very daunting to look at a design and feel unsure if you can do it, but then your confidence builds once you start to see the design.”

Every year Icefest’s charity of choice is the Heart and Stroke Foundation, which hosted an information booth. Visitors could buy toques for a $10 donation, maple syrup taffy for $2 or ice kiddie cubes.

“Ice kiddie cubes are toys and treats frozen in blocks of ice that the children can buy for a $2 donation to the Heart and Stroke Foundation,” said Trent Kaczmarek a six-year volunteer.

“Bloor-Yorkville BIA buys the toys and has them frozen as big blocks of ice which we cut apart into cubes that the kids can smash. Each day we try to sell 300 of these.”

People voted for their favourite ice sculpture between 2 and 5p.m. and the winner of the People’s Choice Sculpture was announced at 5:15p.m. at the DJ tent on Cumberland Street.

“I like the process involved in carving ice sculptures, following the steps and seeing the end result,” said Martin. “It’s very rewarding to see something at the end of it.”