Making the most of mother nature
A St. Vital resident opted to make the most of this winter’s unparalleled amount of precipitation.
Vinora Bennett’s front yard snow sculpture exhibit, dubbed “Bears on Barrington (Avenue),” has been a popular seasonal fixture in her neighbourhood for the past two years.
Last winter, Bennett began her new ice sculpting hobby by mixing snow with water to create a mould she could carve into. She eventually moved on to make her first full-scale sculpture out of an eight-foot block of packed snow. It was easy and smooth to carve, she says, but she had to visualize the finished product while trying to chip away at the excess snow.
“This year, my husband bought some wood and made me a four-foot by four-foot box,” Bennett said. “First, you have to shovel in a layer of snow, pack it down and then build it up to the top. It takes a lot of snow, and we don’t have any machines to do that. You then let it sit for 24 hours, and when the sides come off, I can start carving.”
February marked the snowiest month this year in Winnipeg. Over 50 centimetres of snow fell in the city, up from 43.2 centimetres in January. Last month’s snowfall total ranks fourth among the highest snowfall amounts in Winnipeg. The most snow ever received in February, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada, is 89.9 centimetres in 1881, followed by 64 centimetres in 1921 and 53.8 centimetres in 1873.
Bennett saw the seemingly endless amount of snow as an opportunity.
“I was looking around thinking it’s all going to waste,” Bennett said. “Why don’t we all build stuff? How cool is it when you’re driving down the street and see something a little bit out of the ordinary?”
Since the bears were such a hit last year, Bennett continued with the theme this winter but added a few new sculptures to her front yard: an igloo, a fishermen made from a four-foot by four-foot block and penguins.
“I take the cleanest, fluffiest snow I can find,” Bennett said. “I add a bit of water, and build it up into the shape I’m going for. It’ll sit overnight and turn into hard, shiny ice.”
The sculptures she makes from her homemade box are made of pure snow. They’re more white, less shiny and she can carve away at it until she’s satisfied — but if she makes a mistake, it’s difficult to fix it.
Given it’s only Bennett’s second season of creating the polar bear paradise, she’s gotten better at the craft than she expected she would.
“I had no idea I could do what I’m doing,” she said.
Since last winter, Bennett has sculpted at Festival du Voyageur, Riverview Health Centre, two Winnipeg care homes, Coronation Park, Union Gospel Mission (which she is accepting donations for) and at a sculpting contest in Binscarth, Man. Her talent even earned her some attention on daytime television in the United States when she appeared on Live with Kelly and Ryan last year.
As the weather gets warmer, Bennett’s sculptures will have holes and chunks will begin to fall off, but that doesn’t discourage her.
“Pictures last forever, and there’s so many people that come and enjoy it,” she said. “The kids come, run around, crawl into the igloo and try and ride the polar bears. They’re going to melt, but it’s worth it.”
Kelsey James is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She graduated from Red River College’s creative communications program in 2018 as a journalism major and holds a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric, writing and communications from the University of Winnipeg. A lifelong Winnipegger who grew up in southwest Winnipeg, Kelsey is thrilled to be covering the neighbourhoods she still calls “home.”