Animate Your Park in Winter
Winter makes us all feel more isolated. That’s why its critical to get outside and connect with others when the temperatures drop. Good thing park groups across Canada are helping us find the light in the dark, warmth in the cold and a ball in the snow. Here are some ideas for how your group can animate parks in winter.
Do you count yourself as an ‘indoorsy’ person during the winter months? Winter-loving folks will tell you that you need to “change your attitude” and learn to love winter. The term attitude (singular) suggests that you have just one (a bad one) and you need to turn it around (in the frigid temperatures of winter nonetheless).
When it comes to finding a way to love winter, I prefer the term ‘mindsets’ to attitude. Mindsets are defined as the many “lenses through which information is perceived, organized and interpreted.”
The challenge with winter is not singular, it’s plural. To be more explicit, winter is dark, cold and snowy. This is not an attitude, it is an external reality. But, breaking the challenges with winter down helps us find tangible ways to shift our mindsets.
We know we benefit when we get outside and connect with others when winter makes us feel isolated.
Park groups across Canada are helping us find light in the dark, warmth in the cold and a ball in the snow.
Lighting Up the Dark
The day of the year that brings the fewest hours of sunlight also has the most hours of darkness. Canada’s solstice celebrations celebrate the darkness rather than rage against the dying of the light.
Vancouver’s Secret Lantern Society brings 20,000 people together for a Winter Solstice Festival.
2008 Winter Solstice Lantern Festival in Vancouver, BC at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown, Photo Credit: Visible Hand.
The Festival happens in one night but takes place in three Vancouver locations. It happens on Vancouver Island, in Yaletown and Strathcona. In the lead up to the festival, neighbourhoods throughout Vancouver host lantern-making workshops. Some are free, and some include a small fee.
A neighbourhood-based lantern procession is the cornerstone of the festival. Residents march through the winter night with their lanterns while dancing, drumming and experiencing fire, art and food to bring the wild rumpus to life. A wild labyrinth of light is lit by over 600 pure beeswax candles. Self-guided walks through the labyrinth help participants recharge and reset.
Playing in the Snow
The most obvious of winter activities are skiing, snowshoeing and tubing. These all involve some amount of equipment and planning. All barriers that can make it challenging to get outside.
But, have you heard of yukigassen?
Yukigassen is the sport of snowball fighting. In Japan Yukigassen, or "snow battles,” have been happening for decades. Today, Play Sask, an organization with the tagline “For adults who don't care about the score!” hosts organized snowball fights in parks.
During yukigassen players compete to hit all the opposing team's members with snowballs or capture the opponent’s flag. Yukigassen players must be 19+ and wear a helmet and eye protection. But, other cities have hosted tamer versions using foam balls instead of snowballs.
Ashleigh Mattern co-owner of Play Sask says throwing snowballs "kind of brings back your childhood a little bit.”
This Jasper tournament gives you a sense of the game’s intensity.
Warmth in the Cold
One part shelter one part art installation, warming huts are all in when it comes to drawing people out in the cold.
Winnipeg's warming huts are along the River Mutual Trail. In winter, the trail is turned into one of Canada’s longest skating trails with warming huts along the route. The warming huts have become a world-famous architectural competition. A New York Times journalist marvelled that visiting the warming huts is “akin to visiting an interactive sculpture garden on blades."
Photo credit: Cindy
Warming huts are selected based on an International open competition. In 2019 there were 221 design submissions from 57 countries. Peter Hargraves, the event's producer recently said:
“People used to say the river trail and the warming huts were putting Winnipeg on the map. I always was a little uncomfortable with that,” adding “For 6,000 years, people have been gathering here."
Toronto’s Winter Stations were inspired by Winnipeg's initiative. The huts are built around pre-existing lifeguard stations on a Lake Ontario beach. Every year a selected theme inspires fantastical structures.
Like Winnipeg's program, Toronto's Winter Stations draw people into a landscape that would otherwise be desolate.
Insights for your park group
Are warming stations and solstice festivals on too large a scale for your group? There are key lessons within these events that can help you think about creating a winter mindset in your park.
Divide winter up into blocks of time: The solstice, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day help punctuate winter. Use that to your advantage by hosting events at these times. Also, divide up the season into sub-seasons that aren’t just “Oh Look At The Snow,” and “Is There A Way To Drive In The Fetal Position?”(joke credit). For example, earlier in the winter, it’s easier to plan activities that don’t rely on ice and snow. During those times, make the most of longer nights for fire, candles, stargazing and lantern-lit nature walks.
Tap into childhood nostalgia: Childhood memories help Yukigassen players propel their snowballs across the field. Of course, not all Canadians have experience with snow, but that’s all the more reason to make it fun. Many cultures have their own wintery traditions. Access cross-cultural perspectives to reach people eager to make new winter memories.
Cold, snow and ice are better with art: Partner with the artists, architects, planners and designers in your community. What existing infrastructure exists? A field house? A tennis court? How can you use existing infrastructure to create new and interesting places for people to go in the winter? What smaller art or design interventions can your community make happen? Consider simple winter scapes or temporary installations like low-maintenance snow forts.
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