Snowking Winter Festival

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The annual snowcastle on Great Slave Lake, Yellowknife

The Snowking Winter Festival is an annual festival held each March in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada.

The festival is a major winter tourist draw to Yellowknife.[citation needed] It centres around the snow castle, built from snow with window panes of ice. Each winter the castle is built on Yellowknife Bay, on Great Slave Lake. The castle is designed and the construction is supervised by Snowking, Anthony Foliot. The design evolves every year and the castle has grown to include an auditorium, cafe, courtyard, traditional igloo, slide, parapets and turrets.

Once it is completed, the snow castle becomes the centre of winter arts activity in Yellowknife. The month-long festival includes concerts, art shows, children's theatre, fireworks shows and so much more. Carvers augment the castle with snow and ice sculptures.


The first Snowking castle was built in 1996.[citation needed] From humble beginnings in Yellowknife's Woodyard neighbourhood, where the castle was little more than tunnels in snowbanks augmented by blocks of snow cut from wind-formed snow drifts, the Snowking's Winter Festival has grown into a month-long event based around a large castle built of snow.

In the early years, Snowking and Sir Shiverin' Sam built forts of snow with their children near their homes on the shore of Yellowknife Bay. Over the years, the "castle" grew, and at some point moved out onto the ice of the bay. Each year the structure became larger and more elaborate. Crew members came and went over the years, but the Snowking remained dedicated to his kingdom. Funding was secured so that the castle could continue to operate and to grow each year. In 2009, the Government of Canada provided $16,900 of funding for the 2009 festival via the Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage Program of the Department of Canadian Heritage.[1] In 2004, Foliot received $5,000 from the Northwest Territories Business Development Fund for the operation of the festival.[2]

The castle has become a much-appreciated part of the community. The structure itself has become grander, and the festival plays host to more and more events, providing a unique venue for music and the arts. As a temporary cultural centre, Snowking's castle has become an institution in Yellowknife.[citation needed]


It is known that the majority of planning, building, and fund-raising/organizing are done by five key characters: Snowking, Sir Shiverin' Sam, Joe Snow, Snowbank Frank and Snowbelle. These five have worked together since approximately 2006 to ensure the continued success of the festival. Other builders include Mr. Freeze, Jack Frost, and Dug Some Snow. A first year builder is referred to as a "snowprentice".

Pre-construction work begins in early November. At this time, crew members cut panes of ice from the frozen lake surface. These blocks of ice are about six inches thick and are cut into a variety of heights and widths. They are stockpiled near the future location of the castle and will be used for window panes and table tops.

Construction of the castle itself begins on January 1 each year, and takes about two months.

In the early years of the castle all construction was done with blocks of snow, stacking them into walls and building arched entrances and tunnels. Today blocks continue to have a role in the castle but the vast majority of building is done by "pouring" snow into wooden forms, much like concrete work. This "snowcrete" can be shaped into all manner of structure. Walls, rooms, and roofs are all possible.

After two months of playing in the snow, the crew stands back to examine their work. And on opening night of the festival, they present their masterpiece to the public.

The Festival[edit]

It has become tradition that the castle's opening night is celebrated with a fireworks display. As many as 2,000 people venture out onto the ice to watch the show. Snowking addresses his subjects, welcoming them to another castle season.

Throughout the month of March, the castle hosts a film night, children's plays on the weekends, and live music most Friday and Saturday nights. It also host puppet shows and hockey games.[3] Films are projected directly onto the snow walls. Plays are written and produced in Yellowknife. Musical events feature both local and visiting artists, providing a new venue for Yellowknifers, and an opportunity to hear musicians from elsewhere. The "Block 1,000 Rock and Roll Party" is an example. Tuesday nights have become "jam nights," an opportunity for anybody to take the stage and perform in the castle. Normally one night is reserved for the "Royal Rave", which is usually a multimedia performance featuring several DJs.

The highlight of the season is Snowking's Royal Ball, which is always a fiddle dance. Usually there are a number of talented fiddle players, and, if possible, a caller.

In the past, some events have attracted up to 200 guests. Popular performers have included Leela Gilday and Indio Saravanja and many others.

As of 2009, the castle has hosted nine weddings,[citation needed] with three more are booked for 2010. The first wedding was held during the 2000 festival.[4]

In the past there has been a "Snowtel" - a room of the castle that is intended for visitors to stay overnight - but demand is minimal, and this feature is no longer built.

Usually the castle season ends with another display of fireworks.

In the media[edit]

The festival has received much local, territorial, national and international media attention. Snowking has been featured on CTV’s, "Valerie Pringle Has Left the Building" hosted by Valerie Pringle as well as CBC television’s, Rick Mercer Report hosted by Rick Mercer. Snowking had visits from Ben Mulroney, the host of Canadian Idol and from the History Channel when they were in the north filming Ice Road Truckers. Season One of Ice Pilots NWT shows a wedding at Snowking 14. Snowking has been featured in stories on Shelagh Rogers' CBC Radio program, Sounds Like Canada and CBC television’s “On The Road Again”, hosted by Wayne Ronstad.

The Snowking Winter Festival was chosen by the Canadian Tourism Commission as one of four Northern events to represent the Northwest Territories at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

In 2009, Collective 9 created a feature documentary of the Snowking’s 14th Annual Winter Festival called Triumph of the Chill which is a documentary film about the construction and celebration of the castle.


  1. ^ Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages (2009-03-18). "The Government of Canada Supports Snowking's Winter Festival". Yellowknife: Department of Canadian Heritage. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  2. ^ Bryant, Mike W. (2004-11-01). "Cash cow or economic incentive?". Yellowknife: Northern News Services. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  3. ^ "All hail the Snowking". Canadian Geographic Travel Magazine. Winter 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 
  4. ^ Gleeson, Richard (2001-03-23). "Couple gets hitched in snow castle". Yellowknife: Northern News Services. Retrieved 2010-03-06. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 62°27′21″N 114°21′09″W / 62.45583°N 114.35250°W / 62.45583; -114.35250