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Fort Simpson artist takes gold at Carnaval de Quebec
Snow sculptors will compete in international competition next year

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 10, 2011

QUEBEC CITY - A Fort Simpson artist used his sculpting skills to help a First Nation team win first place in the national snow sculpture competition at Carnaval de Quebec.

NNSL photo/graphic

Randy Sibbeston of Fort Simpson was part of the three-person team that created this snow sculpture that won first place in the national snow sculpture competition at Carnaval de Quebec. - photo courtesy of Randy Sibbeston

Randy Sibbeston along with Dewey Smith of Ottawa and Dylan Smith of Thunder Bay, Ont., spent two days creating the winning snow sculpture. The sculpture, which was based on a creation myth, depicted a raven transforming into a woman in order to give birth to the first peoples.

"It was a big surprise for all of us," said Sibbeston about the win.

"It was a pretty big thrill."

Sibbeston got his start in snow sculpting as a child at the annual Beavertail Jamboree in Fort Simpson. In 2006, Sibbeston, now a professional sculptor, entered the national snow sculpting competition at Ottawa's Winterlude festival with John Sabourin and Eli Nasogaluak.

The team didn't win in their first year but came back to take first place in 2007. It was this victory that brought Sibbeston to Dewey Smith's attention.

Smith, a totem pole carver, has been creating snow sculptures for more than 17 years. Through his work as a senior policy adviser to the Assembly of First Nations' national chief, Smith was approached by the Carnaval de Quebec organizers to put together a First Nations team to compete at the festival.

"I kind of jumped at the opportunity," he said.

A co-worker suggested Smith get in touch with Sibbeston, who had won at Winterlude. The two connected and formed the team along with Smith's nephew.

"It was kind of haphazard," he said.

Smith, who is Cree-Metis, was concerned that his background in depicting mythology and legends wouldn't fit with Sibbeston's more realistic portrayals. In fact the opposite happened.

"When Randy and I came together our two styles really meshed," Smith said.

The team set to work on their block of snow on Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. They didn't have a scale model or a final drawing of the finished project, both of which are basic tools for a competition of this size.

The pivotal moment in the sculpture's creation, according to Smith, came that night just before the team had to end for the day at 10 p.m.

The team had cut a large block of snow out of the raven's shoulder that weighed approximately 500 pounds and had to place it on top of the sculpture to become the beak, a key part of the design. The team tried five different approaches to move the block and none worked.

With each attempt the crowd continued to grow in size from its initial 50 people.

Finally, just before the Friday time limit, the team strapped the block to a ladder and used it to lever the block into place.

"When we finally got it up there the place erupted," Smith said.

The clapping, cheering and screaming of the crowd and the other teams buoyed the group. The team went on to work all of Saturday and through the night right up to the deadline of Sunday at 9 a.m. to finish the sculpture.

The final work was approximately eight feet long and eight feet wide and 13 feet tall.

"The scale is huge," Sibbeston said.

Sibbeston was the only member of the team available to participate in the parade of the sculptors on Sunday morning during the medal ceremony. He was thrilled to see Bonhomme, the Carnaval's mascot, at the event.

The medal ceremony was conducted in French, which Sibbeston doesn't speak, so he watched as the other teams received medals. Sibbeston was finally called up to receive the last award.

"Everyone's clapping and the crowd's cheering," he said.

It wasn't until later when Sibbeston asked an organizer that he realized his team had won first place.

"I was just amazed. I was in a daze," he said.

As a result of winning at the national level, the team will represent Canada next year at the Carnaval's international snow sculpting competition where the blocks of snow are twice as big and teams have twice as long to complete them. Smith said the team plans to be much more organized and formalized before the event.

"We're all looking forward to it," he said.

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