magical Ice Park & Palaces of the past
February 1, 2021
The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival – Western Canada’s largest winter carnival – is about to begin…
…in ways different from every Carnival hosted since the first in 1961!
This year’s theme is “Wild West” and it will be a new frontier to explore the Carnival through virtual events and in small, safe groups due to public health and safety guidelines.
This year will be the first for a Drive-Through Ice Park at Vernon’s Polson Park.
The Ice Park will follow a long history of ice structures, palaces, sculptures, and carving competitions.
Vernon Winter Carnival Ice Palace
The first Ice Palace debuted on Barnard Avenue (now 30th Avenue) during the Carnival’s inaugural year, 1961. The following year, the Ice Palace moved to Polson Park, where it provided a sparkling venue for the coronation of that year’s royalty and was a major attraction for visitors.
Huge blocks of ice were tinted in shades of blue and green, and framed by two massive ice columns. The columns, with their lights and pennants, reached a height of forty feet! Visitors were invited to fill the seats of Polson Park’s grandstand for an excellent view of the coronation, while a concession provided hot coffee to warm up cold hands.
In 1966, the Palace was built for the first time in the (then-new) Civic Plaza.
The first ice sculpture contest was held in 1971. Students of all ages, under the direction of art teachers from local junior and secondary schools, were provided with a block of ice, chisels, and mallets, and allowed to let their imaginations run wild.
In 1974, the Inland Natural Gas Company upped the ante by offering prize money for the best sculptures, while all participants received a celebratory scoop of NOCA’s blue and white Carnival Ice Cream.
This well-loved tradition was not always easy to realize. On January 26th of 1977, the Vernon News reported that a pipe had leaked and filled the local Inland Ice Man plant with ammonia. Engineer Gus Joachim was overcome by fumes that could be smelled as far away as half a mile into the city’s downtown core, and sent to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital to recover.
This incident not only caused employees to be sick and out of work for several days, but also put a halt on the Winter Carnival’s ice sculpturing event that year. The plant’s manager John Jones had managed to produce enough ice for the Palace, but not enough for the sculptures.
Warm winters during the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that in some years, ice blocks could not be cut from natural sources like Swan Lake, since the ice was not hard enough to carve. Eager students waited on the weather to see if they could take part in the Ice Sculpture Contest in the Civic Plaza, now known as Spirit Square.
In 2020, the Ice Palace and sculptures returned for the Vernon Winter Carnival’s momentous sixtieth year. The Winter Carnival committee will carry the spirit forward into this unprecedented year with the first ever Drive-Through Ice Park.