Celebrations that sleigh: Winter festivals in Saskatchewan

Frost Regina 2022. Photo provided by REAL.

From the first snowflake to the spring thaw, the long stretch of winter can seem daunting. There’s snow to shovel, ice to chip and windshields to scrape. There are layers of clothing, wood to haul, and emergency packs to carry in our vehicles. Sometimes it feels like there is no end to the long, frozen period. But in Saskatchewan, we know how to have fun, even in the coldest times.

Frosty good times

Frost Regina 2022. Photo provided by REAL.

In February 2022, the inaugural Frost Regina celebration was a mix of free and paid events throughout the city, attracting people to participate in skating, crokicurl, s’more roasting, storytelling and more. The festival was designed to become the premier celebration during the longest, coldest season in Saskatchewan, luring people out of their homes to participate in various outdoor activities. Visitors were fascinated with the light installations, entertained by the skating performances and fireworks that lit up the night sky, and satiated with delicious food and drinks from local restaurants.

It was more than a social activity and a celebration of community. The 10-day event attracted 68,000 people to its different hubs—downtown, the Warehouse District, Wascana Centre and the REAL District—and contributed more than $6 million to the local economy. It took nearly 150 volunteers over 2,200 hours to bring Frost to life.

It was a success. And it’s coming back. Frost 2023 will take place from February 3 to 12 and is expected to draw even larger crowds. “The inaugural FROST Regina Winter Festival was a huge success. Seeing our community come together to embrace winter was truly heartwarming,” said Tim Reid, president and CEO of REAL. “We knew we had to bring this festival back for 2023, and I cannot wait to welcome everyone back for another incredible 10 days of fun.”

Bring on the chill

Winter festivals show us there is more to the cold season than just frostbite and toque hair. The Frost festival is an excellent example of Regina’s winter city strategy of encouraging residents to embrace winter. The same can be said of Saskatoon’s Nutrien Wintershines, an annual multi-day celebration that brings fun to the winter months with ice sculptures and snow carving, igloofest and soup cook-offs, snow mazes, skating, snowshoeing and more. Wintershines organizers collaborate with WintercityYXE to strategically bring enjoyment to visitors in the middle of winter.

Frost Regina 2022. Photo provided by REAL.

While Frost is likely one of the most anticipated events this winter, there is also Winterruption Regina (and its sister event, Winterruption Saskatoon) that brings music, storytelling, outdoor activities, food and drink to our lives, interrupting the longest, coldest season. Regina residents also enjoy the free Family Day Wascana (formerly Waskimo) Winter Festival with skating, skiing, sleigh rides and snow cricket for high-quality fun. And in Saskatoon, Wanuskewin’s Kôna Winter Festival includes both indoor and outdoor activities, such as dogsledding, snowshoeing, bonfires, scavenger hunts and gallery exhibits to celebrate Indigenous culture and the beauty of the winter season.

Winter festivals are not limited to larger communities. Throughout the province, many communities host celebrations that break up the cold stretch and entertain residents. The Prince Albert Winter Festival is one of the longest-running celebrations in Western Canada. It provides attendees with a homemade goods market, arm wrestling competitions, bonfires and dog sled races. The Fire and Ice Winter Festival at Ness Creek includes a hockey tournament and soup cookoff before its fireworks display. In Denare Beach, attendees of the annual winter festival can watch a trap-setting competition before participating in a frozen bubble-blowing activity, turkey curling or ice fish derby. Fort Qu’Appelle’s winter celebrations boast pillow fighting, spike driving, fireworks and a food-eating competition.

In Martensville, families are treated to various indoor and outdoor activities, such as sleigh rides, fire pit, bouncy castles, and Christmas tree burning. The Lac La Ronge Winter Festival features Cross-Fit challenges, jigging and square dancing, and a disco-on-ice skate party. Because every winter has its spring, we might as well enjoy the snow, ice and darkness in the best way we know how.