For over ten years, the Alton Mill Arts Centre in Caledon has hosted the beloved Fire and Ice Festival. It is an event for all ages, with indoor and outdoor activities designed to celebrate both winter itself and the core focus of the gallery—the arts. At a time of year when people are hunkering down beneath heated roofs to wait out the cold until spring returns, the Alton Mill invites you to rediscover the sheer joy of the one season which is a fundamental aspect of our True North identity here in Canada: Winter!
Update on Fire and Ice 2022
It is truly unfortunate that, due to the current situation with COVID-19, the decision was made to cancel the festival this year. It was a difficult decision for all involved, not only from a business and practical standpoint, but from an emotional one as well. It is, after all, something the organizers are immensely proud of, and find great joy in hosting. Sadly, in terms of practicality, they found that it simply wasn’t feasible to hold the festival both safely and in a way that maintains what the festival is all about. “There will be lots of crowds,” points out Martin Kouprie, partner at Alton Mill. “That means there will be a lot of people who want to come inside, warm up and congregate because it’s cold. There is no way we can control that reasonably.”
Of course, those involved held off as long as they could before making the final decision to cancel the festival. However, Martin and Alton Mill co-owner Jeremy Grant intend to move forward with plans that will honour the spirit of the festival—currently, they are considering how to open the mill pond adjacent to the building for skating. “For many years we have built a rink in winter, put boards up, and have hosted our Alton Mill Pond Hockey Classic” Jeremy says. “Even though we’ve had to cancel the festival, we can still create the ice rink and offer skating and shinny in the daytime. We are even looking at the possibility of adding some lighting as well, so people can come out for a skate in the evening and have that amazing nighttime experience.”
Because the Alton Mill Arts Centre is still open (under the new Ontario COVID-19 phase 2 restrictions), Jeremy and Martin are hopeful that people who come out to skate will still venture inside. Health and safety protocols are in place, and there are plenty of artists eager to greet guests and invite them into their world for a glimpse at what they’re passionate about. “As we get closer to the event, we will look at possibly doing a couple of pop-ups next to the pond like a hot chocolate tent and maybe some snacks,” Jeremy says. “We really just want to build up the community spirit and show everybody that we’re here and we’re eager for them to enjoy our space.”
Happily, many of the preparations that have been in the works for several months can be carried over to next year’s festival. A number of the ice carvers, for example, that had confirmed for 2022 have already requested to be pencilled in for 2023. And some of the vendors and local clubs that would have participated this year have signaled their continued participation for next year as well. “There is a lot of good spirit there that will continue,” Martin states. “Some of the notes I was getting back from our participants was that it’s too bad about the cancellation, because Fire and Ice is one of the lights that gets them through the dark winter—those are some of the actual words I was getting back.”
Some of the events, in addition to the ice carving already mentioned, that Jeremy and Martin anticipate coming back for 2023 include fat biking, art installations, skiing demonstrations, and indoor workshops.
Then there is the pièce de résistance: the fire sculpture. Created by local artist Paul Morin, the sculpture is revealed on the Saturday night of the festival, but is under cover until it is time to set the piece ablaze. “It looks like a big pile of wood sometimes, and then things happen and the sculpture reveals itself after everything is burned away,” Jeremy explains. “This year would have been spectacular, but I’m looking forward to what Paul takes from the planning and uses next year.”
Fire and Ice behind the scenes
With such a spectacular event being the end result, it is no surprise that a lot of things happen behind the scenes to make it all work, and there are many intricacies involved in pulling all the pieces together. So, even though the Fire and Ice festival was cancelled this year, we at York Durham Headwaters need to give a well-deserved shoutout to the festival organizers for their dedication and effort. “There are a lot of spreadsheets with tiny writing,” Martin explains, laughing. “You start scratching your eyes after a while. It’s a big job. This is the first year I’ve started working on it, and I’m just in awe of the amount of work that has gone into it in the past.”
At its core, Fire and Ice is an authentic experience, and this is something Jeremy has maintained since the beginning. “It was built on the foundation of being an authentic community event,” he stresses. “When you come to our mill, you don’t feel like you’ve entered into a corporate space. You’re not bombarded by advertisements and sponsored events the way visitors to some larger functions are. Everything about it is authentic and wholesome, and I think that’s what people appreciate about it.”
The festival is also a big draw for the tenant artists at the Alton Mill Arts Centre. After all, the purpose of the festival is to bring people to the mill, to give them an enjoyable day, and to open the mill up to share the artists and their work. “Our artists have consistently said that fire and ice is the best event that we have from their perspective,” Jeremy states proudly. “When people come in to get warmed up, they browse the different galleries we have. And the workshops that are programmed into the festival just seem to work.”
“Anytime I mention Fire and Ice to anybody, I hear how much they love the event,” Martin adds. “They tell me they look forward to it, to bringing their kids. Even the artists and the vendors. They say that if they can’t participate in the festival, they still want to go as a spectator. It’s such a big event that everyone enjoys so much and looks forward to.”
For more information on the Alton Mill Arts Centre’s winter skating as planning unfolds, visit www.altonmill.ca. For now, we at YDH are crossing our fingers (and toes and knees and even our eyes!) that next year we will be able to return to Caledon for the full-fledged Fire and Ice festival that we know and love. We hope to see you there in 2023!
Story by Katherine Ryalen