Sitting snowman
Snowmen like these lined the lanes of Ottawa's beloved Strathcona Park. Image: Christopher Bishop/Fulcrum
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From the buxom to the bizarre, creative snow sculptures make this winter a little less bleak

This is the period of the year that poets since Christina Rosetti have liked to call “the bleak midwinter.” This time, it’s doubly bleak as we approach the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ever-mounting infection and death rates, and the lockdowns currently stretching across Ontario and Quebec. 

Photo: Christopher Bishop/Fulcrum

With subzero temperatures and lightning-quick daylight hours, the small joys of quarantine summer and fall — relaxing on a balcony or taking long walks around the city — are no longer possible, and even the most resilient of us are finding it difficult to cope. However, we’re happy to report that despite all this, the people of Sandy Hill are taking every opportunity they can to get outside and spread some joy to their neighbours.

Photo: Christopher Bishop/Fulcrum

On Jan. 16, Ottawa had a record-breaking 21 cm snowfall (the most for that date since 1943), and it came down from morning ‘til night in huge, clumping, eddying gusts that were perfect for building. I left my house to take a walk at 7 or 8 p.m., and by that point it was difficult to even open the door against the snowdrifts that had accumulated.

Photo: Christopher Bishop/Fulcrum

Walking through Strathcona Park, with the snow still falling along the river, I realized that the park was filled with snowmen. By my best estimate, there were over 50, ranging from two tiny figures overlooking the Rideau River to a 6ft. tall, antler-clad behemoth keeping watch over the baseball field. 

Photo: Christopher Bishop/Fulcrum

People had been out in the park all day, building ever-more-fanciful creations out of the snow. I saw a carefully articulated snow-dog (someone was busy taking pictures of it, with their real dog nearby for scale), a gumdrop-covered party raver, and an enormous sitting bear with painstakingly measured twigs filling in the details of its paws. I’ve never seen so many snowmen in one place, and it left me hopeful that the remainder of this midwinter will not be quite as bleak. 

There’s something pure in the act of building a snowman: there’s the sheer joy inherent in the action of creation itself, but once it is finished there’s a specific kind of pride that comes from imagining strangers walking by and receiving a little ripple of joy from the something you have created out of nothing.

When I returned early the next morning to the park with my camera, many of the snowmen had already been destroyed, which is to be expected; there’s a certain sense of power associated with destroying that some people think matches that of creating. (It doesn’t.) In the end though, it doesn’t matter if the snowmen were destroyed months from now or seconds after they were completed. They were always going to melt. But I’m still going to be thinking about them for months to come, because to me they’re a clear sign that during one of the worst winters of our collective lives, people are still choosing to be active, creative, and above all, kind.