Chipping away through a complete disaster

A snowy, muddy field leads up to a castle of snow at dusk.
Ice on Whyte’s iconic ramparts of snow are being melted away by the warm weather, and built back up by Delayne Corbett.

When the January cold dropped off into that warm, wild wind last week, I found myself sprinkling gravel on my sidewalk as quietly as I could in the morning. It was already an inconvenience having to address the fresh ice that had spread out over the walks, and when I saw a woman get out of her truck to move a branch that had blown down from our tree into the road… well, I’m not proud of it, but I slunk away with my bag of gravel, lest she think I threw the branch there or something, and harangue me into arriving even later to work.

All in all though, the warmth was a treat. Which made me wonder who’d be really annoyed by the weather. That’s how I met Delayne Corbett.

Delayne is the Artistic Director of the Ice on Whyte Festival — a fact I discovered when I penguined over to End of Steel Park and shouted across the gates that I had a microphone and I’d love to talk to anyone inside. Ice on Whyte, you see, is the local ice sculpting festival that spreads through Old Strathcona in January. I had a hunch that if anyone resented the temperature hitting 6ºC, it’d be the folk who had a week left to finish building a mini-empire of ice and snow. As an ice carver, Delayne said, 6ºC with full sun was a complete disaster.

Delayne was the only one working on the site at the time, and he let me watch him for a while as he ripped cardboard covers off 150-pound rectangles of ice. He clamped one of them with metal tongs he swore were older than him, and threw it on the snow so he could “walk the dog” and shuffle it into place with the rest of the ice slide he was building. The slide would bring you to the bottom of a mountain of snow his team had stomped into the ground. All things considered, he was in good spirits.

-15ºC, Delayne told me, is the ideal temperature for ice sculptors. The ice doesn’t crackle much when you add water, and the cold wicks away the sweat you’re building up. The warm weather made him want to rip off layers, but he couldn’t because it was so wet and goopy that he had to keep his rainpants on.

Even worse, the wind had blown sheets of cardboard all around the site. That would have been okay, except that the record-setting gusts also tossed an 8-foot tall plywood box into the fences “like a bowling ball,” and he spent most of his morning gathering cardboard that had sailed into nearby streets.

He said something that stuck with me though, about the ice slide and the whole business of working with ice. He was in the process of adjusting the slide to make it a little slower at the bottom, by adding a little more distance. I mused that people building roller-coasters didn’t have that luxury.

“Those are all so planned meticulously,” he agreed. “Basically when I get here, I don’t know how much snow I have… so I kind of have to just go with the flow, rather than pre-plan.”

That, I think, is a skill we could all stand to learn. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

I also told this story for a 3-minute story challenge on CJSR. Have a listen.

Civic Election 2013: Taking a Special Interest

In April this year, an anonymous source leaked a grainy video of a closed-door meeting among some of Calgary’s real estate developers. A grainy video worthy of media attention should be enough to make anyone caught on film gulp, and in this case the footage made some Calgarians furious. Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes, was rallying fellow housing developers to pour fountains of money into the upcoming municipal election to kick out anti-sprawl candidates on city council. I’ve been trying to untangle why this video has made some people incensed, while a slew of other special interest groups supporting candidates in Edmonton have become local celebrities.

Wenzel tells the audience in the leaked video that he and other developers had doled out $1.1 million in donations to the conservative Manning Centre and Manning Foundation in order to defeat city council members on “the dark side.” The Manning Centre’s new Municipal Governance Project is aiming to colour Canada’s municipal politics a little bluer by offering training and guidance to right-leaning candidates. At least five of this year’s Calgary city council candidates have received training through the program: Joe Magliocca, James Maxim, Sean Chu, Jordan Katz and Kevin Taylor, who also received transportation and signage help from Cal Wenzel.

At the time, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi accused Wenzel of admitting that the developers and the Manning Centre had collaborated to severely overstep election finance rules. Individuals and organizations are only allowed to donate up to $5000 to a candidate in any year (no charges have been laid in this case, though).

While this wealthy group of developers may well be violating the spirit of the law, I wonder how much of the backlash (such a recent piece from David Climenhaga) has come from a feeling that this amount of influence is unfair, and how much has come from ideological opposition to the ideas.

This year, special interest groups have also stepped up in Edmonton to test candidates’ support for queer issues, sustainable urban agriculture, and arts and culture. Several have published the results of surveys they sent out to the candidates, including Yuri Wuensch’s highly-visible Vote Zombie Wall campaign – focused on keeping out the hordes by combatting sprawl. Wuensch has appeared at election events all over town with little controversy. So have the leaders of Activat ED, a youth-led group endorsing progressive candidates. And in fact, both of the latter appeared on my own radio show, Terra Informa.

Each of these groups has advanced a special interest by lending resources and limelight to candidates, or highlighting their credibility on certain issues. We have a word for that: civil society. Civil society groups, such as think tanks, churches, blogs and non-profits, carve out an important part of the public conversation outside of government and business. They’re a vital part of becoming informed and active in negotiating decisions in a democracy, whether we’re debating suburb growth or clandestine chickens.

It may be more productive to make sure that civil society groups are transparent in their activity, and accountable to our elections laws, than to try to shame them out of town.

House full of eccentrics

rutherford fundraiser

You there, with the computer. I want to give you a chance to look swanky and meet some truly wild personalities. Just because I like you. All you have to do is answer a question. Are you in?

I’m on the board of Punctuate! Theatre, right? We’re pretty new, but we’re trying to create heart-palpitating, brainwave-inducing, challenging work. And next Friday, we’re taking over Edmonton’s Rutherford House for our first annual fundraiser to let you have a peek into the process and meet the minds behind the performances. You’ll get to see excerpts from the plays, costumes, the scripts we’ve worked through, and partake in some wining and dining. I want you to come. And lucky you, even if you can’t afford a ticket, I happen to have one to give away. You see, my lovely mother has asked me to purchase one on her behalf and find a good home for it. So in her honour (today is her birthday!), I am giving it away to the first person who can answer this skill-testing question, which will mostly test your skills of research:

Who was in the cast of the first show that Punctuate! produced? No hints which show it was. The first person to name at least two of the cast members in the comments below wins!

Find out more about our takeover of Rutherford House on January 11, from 7 pm – 10 pm.

Edit: We have a winner! Congrats to Steve Andersen.