Beloved winter carnival in Fort Smith, N.W.T., set to return in March

Fort Smith's annual winter carnival is set to return this year. It's scheduled for March 9 to 12. (Carla Ulrich/CBC - image credit)
Fort Smith's annual winter carnival is set to return this year. It's scheduled for March 9 to 12. (Carla Ulrich/CBC - image credit)

Mark your calendars: Fort Smith's winter carnival is back.

The Wood Buffalo Frolics was cancelled last year in the N.W.T. community due to organizer and volunteer fatigue. Patti Haaima organized the event for the last four years but after issues with COVID-19 restrictions and a lack of new volunteers, she had to let it go.

This year, new organizers have come on board to add new ideas to the beloved carnival and although they're only at the beginning stages of planning, it's shaping up to be a big event.

The event will run from March 9 to 12 and will coincide with Thebacha Dog Mushers Association sled dog races and the Slide Zone Shredderz's snowboarding event, both held the same weekend.

Dana Fergusson is one of the new organizers of the event this year. She said the hope is to lower the impact and stress on any one individual by sharing organization of the events with multiple people.

"There's a group of us that got together, all leaders within our own events," said Fergusson. "So it's not just fallen on one or a few small groups of people."

She said The Frolics as a society will be the umbrella that brings everyone together.

Fergusson said the events planned so far are the Mad Trappers Ball & Talent Show organized by Sandy Poitras, bingo organized by the Fireweed Festival, northern games organized by Paul Boucher, a hockey tournament organized by Gordon Delorme and the Frolics Prince & Princess pageant which will be organized by the society.

"It's gonna be a huge community event, all weekend long," she said. "You could go and watch the mushers race along the highway and then there's some tea boiling on the side. Then you go to the arena for a burger and watch a hockey game,"

Submitted by Priscilla Lepine
Submitted by Priscilla Lepine

She said each organizer has experience with their own events and will be able to tap into their own volunteer pool to successfully run the events.

"If it's a successful format then whoever wants to take it on next year can do the same thing, or this group can keep going, it can progress as it should," she said.

The group is still working on creating the society, and hosting more planning meetings. Then they'll start reaching out to the community for more partnership and fundraising opportunities.

'It's exciting'

David Poitras, a dog musher from Fort Smith, said he's very happy to see the carnival come back. He and his family have been participating in the dog sled races since 1973. His favourite event is the northern games, in particular the snowshoe racing.

He said winter in his community can feel long and drawn out, especially after a cold snap like they just experienced. So he's looking forward to seeing everyone let loose and have some fun, especially if the weather is good — like it usually is that time of year.

"It's exciting," said Poitras. "People come in from Fort Chip if they can, Hay River and other communities. Old friends meet and it's a good time."

Although Poitras usually races himself, this year he has been mentoring his grandson Markus Chalifoux. If all goes well they are planning for Chalifoux to race at the carnival with a six-dog team.

Fergusson said the next planning meeting for the event will be held at the Pelican Restaurant on Thursday at 5 pm.