Saskatoon ice sculptor plans to hang up chisel after 50 years

Don Greer was pleased with how his Snoopy sculpture turned out in December 2022.  (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)
Don Greer was pleased with how his Snoopy sculpture turned out in December 2022. (Kendall Latimer/CBC - image credit)

Slivers of ice shot into the air as Don Greer drilled "bullet holes" into the side of Snoopy's dog house.

It was a final touch on his front-yard ice sculpture portraying the fighter pilot Red Baron chasing down the cartoon dog turned aviator.

He hopes people driving past the piece will crank up Snoopy's Christmas by Royal Guardsmen.

"That catches the spirit that was behind this, to hear that music — it's always in my ear," he said, rattling off the lyrics.

Listen to the song that inspired Greer's latest piece: 

The retired architect just marked his 70th birthday. He's been putting up ice sculptures in Saskatoon for five decades.

The Snoopy scene is Greer's penultimate sculpture, with just one more planned for an upcoming festival.

"Sometimes you have to say you've done enough," he said.

"It is bittersweet. I'll miss it."

It began in 1971, when Greer was just out of high school. He was helping his dad put together Christmas decorations. They used snow and ice to create a castle, with Santa Claus and reindeer overhead.

But one critical element was missing from the scene.

He pulled some chicken wire from the basement, mashed it up into a seven foot pole and put red lights inside before icing it up.

"That was the north pole."

Much of his work since then has featured traditional nativity scenes. For the Snoopy piece, he was inspired by the song and thought the kids who use the park across the street might like it too.

Kendall Latimer/CBC
Kendall Latimer/CBC

This year he also has elaborate pieces up at Resurrection Lutheran Church — a 15-foot angel, sheep and shepherds — and St. Paul's Cathedral — an expansive nativity scene.

Greer, a retired architect, first develops his ideas in his mind's eye. Then he sketches them out, figuring out the dimensions before tinkering with wood and chicken wire in his detached garage.

"I can see the image in the wire," he said. "When a sculptor looks at the medium he's working with, he sees the image in what he's trying to do before he even lays a chisel to it."

Once the frame is complete, he sets it up outside and then waits for frigid temperatures so he can douse it in water -- forming the ice structure.

Greer said the best part of the process has been hearing how people enjoy his work.

"It's what makes it all worthwhile, when people come and say hello and and tell you how much they like the work," he said. "When it's melted, it's gone. I have those memories of people."

Kendall Latimer/CBC
Kendall Latimer/CBC

Don Meister, a member of the Resurrection Lutheran Church and a friend to Greer, said the sculptures have brought joy to the community.

One winter, Meister noticed Greer prepping his sculpture alone in the cold, without assistance.

"I offered to help him, and we quite quickly became friends," Meister said, adding he quickly learned how passionate Greer was for the hobby.

"It was almost an obsession for him and I think it's going to be really hard for him to actually quit."

But Meister said he understands why the time is right for Greer to move on.

"Neither of us is young anymore. As a matter of fact, Don at 70 is a year younger than me," he said.

The work can be dangerous, requiring long hours of work in terribly cold conditions. For some taller pieces, Greer uses a ladder propped up on icy terrain.

"It's a smart move on his part, but oh my we're going to miss his work."

WATCH | Saskatoon ice sculptor plans to hang up chisel after 50 years:

Greer's final piece is planned for Saskatoon's upcoming Nutiren Wintershines festival.

After that, he hopes to start coaching curling again, moving from one sheet of ice to the next.

"My plan is to put the chisels away and hang up the hoses."