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Long-time ice sculptor dishes on Winterlude’s annual competition

By Kenneth Ingram on February 11, 2014

Elaborate ice carvings have temporarily transformed Confederation Park into a crystal garden this year for the 36th Winterlude. Kenny Hayden, 64, is a local competitor who participates in the event each winter.

“This year we had a fantastic competition,” says Hadyen as we sit near the fountain where about a dozen ice carvings are on display. “We have had the perfect temperatures this year for [preserving] the ice. If it continues like this they could last another week,” he remarks with pride.

Hayden is among twelve members of the Canadian Ice Carvers Society who work in partnership with Heritage Canada to produce some of the structures in the park. Born in Montreal, Hayden has called Ottawa home for the past 25 years. His warm smile is comforting on this fairly cold yet sunny Saturday morning.

Apt613: How do you get into ice carving?

“I’m a chef, by profession,” says Hayden, who explains that he began carving ice about two decades ago. “I would say a good 70 per cent of ice carvers are chefs,” he continues, describing how modern ice carving stems from a time when big hotels would use ice to keep buffet food chilled. Cooks began to carve the ice to make it more ornate and, according to Hayden, “it just escalated from there.”

Do you remember what the first thing you ever sculpted was?

“Yes, a basket,” he laughs. “The first one is always tough and scary,” he says. “Ice is a very different medium and I was a little bit nervous.” “And the tools that we use,” he cautions. “Everything is very sharp,” Hayden acknowledges, recalling that the first tool he began using was a chisel.

Do you still use a chisel?

“Yes, but now I’ve graduated to power tools,” he continues. “Power tools have escalated our abilities to produce beautiful ice. The tools give us a chance to do fine detail work.” Hayden says that many of the ice carvers rely on woodworking tools but also have to improvise on occasion. “We have brought [woodworking tools] into our world,” he says, noting that some tools do not work so well with ice and modifications are sometimes improvised. Paying homage to an action-adventure television series that began in the 80’s, Hayden smiles as he describes the process of custom-designing tools as “MacGyver-ing”.

Tell us about the competition this year

sculpture2“It was a two-hour competition and you get a 300lb block of ice,” says Hayden, describing how pieces of ice can be stacked to provide the right height. “Mother Nature is our glue, as long as it’s nice and cold. If we’re minus ten [degrees], all we need is a little bit of water and a little bit of snow and we can fuse the ice together very quickly.”

Hayden stands beside his masterpiece this year, a sleek, icy recreation of the Eiffel Tower.

“The theme this year was memories so a lot of this is tied to fellas who had childhood memories,” says Hayden. “For me, mine was an adult memory of Paris. We had a fantastic time there,” Hayden says in reference to a vacation he and his wife took two years ago. Hayden’s Eiffel Tower, inspired by his wife and their trip together, is inspirational by design but now knowing the source of his passion also makes the carving particularly symbolic: That our best memories in life need not be restricted to our youth.

Do you have a personal favourite amongst all the other sculptures around the fountain?

Sculpture1Hayden responds promptly, showing no hesitation to answer: “The gentleman over here with the gymnast with the ball,” he says, referring to the piece carved by Ross Baisas and won first-place this year. “He always wins,” laughs Hayden. “He’s a great guy. He’s fantastic. He’s a professional carver,” says Hayden, adding that Baisas carves professionally at a casino.

“He’s a fantastic vegetable and fruit carver as well,” Hayden says, then segways to a more revealing aspect of the competition. “Was I competing to win, no,” says Hayden by his own volition. ‘There are some carvers who come here that are absolutely amazing. Am I in their class? No,” he continues with enthusiasm in his voice.

“But I like to compete and I like to have fun. So I come out and I have fun.”

Winterlude continues in Canada’s Capital Region until February 17 but don’t wait to see the ice carvings. They’re at their best when fresh.