The mild weather was not ideal, but it didn't stop people from flocking to ODAS Park Saturday to embrace a Canadian winter tradition.
“It’s hard to find things to do in Orillia in winter,” said Crystal King, who was attending the second annual Severn Winterfest with her kids.
“I think in the winter time it’s so easy to hibernate and let the electronics take over,” said the Orillia resident. “So, that’s what I’m trying to get away from by coming out here.”
Her daughter, Mia Ridley, was excited to go down the big snow slide.
“It’s fun,” said the nine-year-old. “I go so fast.”
Ridley said she also enjoyed going through the snow castle.
Dan Freeman, who was accompanying King, said he liked coming out to support the local Lions Club. He said he appreciates the hard work of the winterfest committee volunteers, some of whom are also friends.
“It brings people together,” said the Orillia resident. “Sometimes in winter you don’t see your friends like you do in summer. So we come out here and meet other parents and the kids get to play together.”
Where most Orillia and area residents are familiar with the Winterfest activities, Damon Worron of Scotland, Ontario, was experiencing it all for the first time.
“I like to go sledding and have a snowball fight with my brother,” said the nine-year-old, who was in town visiting relatives.
“We don’t have that much snow where we live. It’s only about this much,” added Worron, spreading his index finger and thumb about an inch apart. His favourite attractions at the festival included the snowmobiles and demolition derby.
It wasn’t just Worron attending Winterfest for the first time. Some Georgian College international students were experiencing their first Canadian winter and snow. A group of them were volunteering at Winterfest over the weekend.
“It’s our first time,” said Aksa Elsa Babu, from Kerala, India “Not everyone in India will get to enjoy this.”
The 18-year-old Social Service Worker student said the best part was watching the kids having fun despite the wintry weather.
Her friend, Airin Sarashibu, was also experiencing snow for the first time.
“It’s so cold, but when I came here I felt good because I’m seeing this for the first time,” said the 18-year-old from Kerala. “I see children enjoying it and I really like it.”
The two said they had been delighted to try roller skating, ride on a horse cart, and watch Rama councillor Ted Williams carve a bear out of a block of wood.
Sachin Sajee, from Delhi, India, said he had seen snow before in India, but he had never seen a festival where the focus is snow.
“It is a new experience,” said the 22-year-old. “We got to see the igloo and it was awesome. It is a dream for everyone (in India) to see such stuff.”
Chad Cooke, president of the Severn Winterfest committee, said the event is bigger than last year's inaugural event.
“The military is here doing winter survivor demos all day,” he said. “Ted Williams is carving his famous bears. We have a much larger lumitalo (snow castle). It’s made with 200 tons of snow.”
The festival also has a larger ice bar and ice lounge, which Cooke said becomes the main attraction for the dance that starts tonight at 8 p.m.
The bar and lounge were made with 10,000 pounds of ice, cut out from Lake Couchiching near Washago, said Jason Bourgouin, Winterfest committee member, who helped build the structures.
Last year, Cooke said, the weekend-long festival had 2,500 attendees, and he is hoping there will be at least 4,000 this year.
“Something like this isn’t possible without volunteers,” he said. “We have a lot of people who are enthusiastic and give their time. We need more people with construction backgrounds for the build up. We also want people to sit on the committee and share their creative ideas.”
Anyone interested in volunteering should contact ODAS Park at 705 325-0353 or OdasPark@gmail.com for more details.
Another new feature this year, Cooke said, was the fire show and movie night. Popular Saturday activities include the pancake breakfast, demolition derby and mini snowmobile rides.
The festival continues Sunday, from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m., with many of the same attractions in addition to the popular polar bear dip fundraiser, which starts at 1:30 p.m.
For more information on Winterfest, visit facebook.com/events/353648272195240 or the event’s website severnwinterfest.com.