Carving out a future at the Montreal Casino

Ross Baisas kneels before a block of ice.

He etches a light outline of a palm tree on the front of the rectangular block using a chisel.

"As an artist … I look inside the ice block and picture whatever characters I am going to put in it," he says.

Once Baisas has the image in his mind, the power tools come out. He first uses a chainsaw to take out large pieces of ice. Then he uses a set of chisels, each one a different size, to create the overall shape of the sculpture. The final step involves using a blow-torch to make the texture of the block shines.

One hour later, Baisas' vision comes to life: a farmer on a bull, sitting beneath a leaning palm tree.

Craig Desson/CBC
Craig Desson/CBC

It's all in a days work for Baisas who is a kitchen artist at the Montreal Casino, where his work is displayed inside its restaurants.

For Baisas, ice carving isn't a job — it's a vocation.

Watch Ross Baisas at work:

Baisas immigrated a decade ago from the Philippines, a country not known for ice. He's from a village called Paete, which means "chisel" because the town is famous for its wood carvers.

He learned the trade from his father, who is also a wood carver.

Craig Desson/CBC
Craig Desson/CBC

Baisas says carving wood isn't all that different from carving ice, so he quickly accepted a job offer from the Montreal Casino when they recruited him from the Philippines.

"I said, 'Yes!' I'm going to express myself to a different people, in a different country."

Since immigrating, Baisas has learned some French, has gotten married and had two children.

"You have to adapt, you have to blend."

World champion

Submitted by Ross Baisas
Submitted by Ross Baisas

According to Baisas, there are no more than a dozen ice carvers in Montreal, and a major motivation for him to come to Quebec was the opportunity to compete in ice carving competitions.

"I thought about the passion first. I didn't think about … how am I going to live there."

Submitted by Ross Baisas
Submitted by Ross Baisas

Outside of work, he travels the country to take part in ice and snow carving tournaments with his brother, Antonio. The pair have won first place in several international competitions, including in Banff and Edmonton earlier this year. Baisas has also travelled as far as France and Poland to compete.

"My passion is carving. My passion is art."