A cloud of snow-like shavings fills the air around Langley resident Harold Sawatzky as he uses a small power grinder to apply the finishing touches to a Maple Leaf of solid ice at the historic Fort Langley heritage site.
The “live carving” is a demonstration, showing how three heavy blocks of specially-made clear ice are re-shaped into a statue commemorating the 150th birthday of Canada.
Work starts with a stencil to mark the design on the ice, then rough-cutting the shape with a chainsaw before carving out the details with hand chisels and specialized power tools.
Sawatzky’s Langley-based company, Ice Decor, makes its own crystal clear ice blocks from water filtered by reverse osmosis, freezing them to minus 30 degrees Celsius before “thawing” them in a freezer to minus 10, a temperature where the ice is less likely to shatter during the carving process.
“It’s like working with crystal,” Sawatzky says.
Ice Decor creates original ice designs that are shipped to locations like Whistler, Victoria and other Vancouver Island locations.
“I’ve got something going to Whitehorse in February,” Sawatzky says.
It all started 12 years ago on a cruise ship, when Sawatzky’s wife noticed an ice carving centrepiece of a horse’s head.
Perhaps, she thought, the big ships that sail in and out of Vancouver harbour would want to buy large blocks of ice locally.
“One thing led to 50,” Harold says.
The Sawatzkys started making ice in a small freezer, then requests for bigger blocks led them to buy commercial-grade ice block makers.
They began pouring centrepieces using latex moulds, only to discover there was a lot of demand for custom-carved designs.
“You find out not everyone wants a swan,” he says.
“They want a flying pig, or an Optimus Prime.”
For Sawatzky, who used to work with developmentally disabled adults, it’s been an opportunity to exercise some creative muscles.
“I’ve always had an interest in art.”
An ice sculpture usually lasts somewhere between one-and-a-half to three hours, making it a less-than-lasting form of art, but Sawatzky doesn’t mind.
He says he enjoys the process.
“There is a greater degree of satisfaction in the creation,” he says.
And he takes photos of the finished projects.
For all the success that the family-owned business has enjoyed, there is one thing that the Sawatzkys have not managed to accomplish.
“I don’t think we’ve ever sold ice to a cruise line,” Harold says.
“No. I don’t think we have.”