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Fire and ice: DL water carnival, St. Paul Winter Carnival come together for Parade of the Northwest

Detroit Lakes artist Hans Gilsdorf is hard at work completing the design and construction of a float that will form the backdrop for some special visitors from the St. Paul Winter Carnival when they make their Parade of the Northwest debut on Sunday. (Viucki Gerdes/Tribune)1 / 2
The Parade of the Northwest will get underway at 1 p.m. this Sunday. After assembling in the Chamber parking lot, the route will proceed east on Front Street, then south down Washington Avenue to the Pavilion, curling around the corner where Washington becomes West Lake Drive and proceeding to just past Zorbaz. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

Though it seems as though it's only just begun, the 82nd Northwest Water Carnival will end with a big splash this Sunday afternoon, as the Parade of the Northwest winds its way down Detroit Lakes' city streets.

While the water carnival is intended to be a celebration of all things summer, at least two of the entries in this year's parade will have a theme that is decidedly more chilly. In order to celebrate the announcement that Detroit Lakes will be the chief supplier of ice for next year's St. Paul Winter Carnival — to be used to build one of the largest ice palaces ever erected — the St. Paul festival's 2018 royalty will be making the trip up to Detroit Lakes this weekend to take part in the Parade of the Northwest. "We've cleared the day on our calendars, and we're all taking a bus up there together," says David Breen, also known as "Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire," who presides over the summer-worshiping Vulcans. "It should be a fun and interesting day."

"We're looking forward it," adds Jason Bradshaw, also known as "Boreas Rex, the King of the Winds," who presides over the Winter Carnival court — and is, according to carnival tradition, the "mortal enemy" of Vulcanus Rex. "It's sort of a one-time opportunity for us."

Though the Vulcans and Winter Carnival royalty travel to many different festival parades in the months leading up to the annual event in St. Paul (which will take place on Jan. 25-Feb. 10, 2018), this will mark the group's first visit to Detroit Lakes.

When the Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Committee was making its pitch to supply the Winter Carnival Ice Palace with ice during a recent visit to the State Capitol, "we (i.e., the Vulcans) kind of crashed the party and had some fun with them," said Breen. "During that meeting, they said we had to come up to their carnival this summer. So we started putting together a plan to see if it was going to be feasible, and lo and behold, we got enough minds together on the same path and made it happen."

Though the Vulcans and Boreas' court battle it out for control of the Winter Carnival throughout the event, it's all done in a spirit of lighthearted fun, Bradshaw noted.

"My reign lasts primarily for the duration of the Winter Carnival, " he explained. "I have 10 days to celebrate all the fun things we can do during the winter in st. paul — ice sculptures, figure skating, sledding and so forth — before it's all overtaken by Vulcanus Rex, who ushers in the beginnings of summer."

"We tend to be a little more spontaneous than Boreas and his court," said Breen, "but we're all in it for a good time, there's no doubt about that."

The St. Paul Winter Carnival float in Sunday's parade is being designed by Detroit Lakes' resident artist and sculptor extraordinaire, Hans Gilsdorf, who admitted that he is "scrambling" to get everything ready in time for the parade's 1 p.m. start on Sunday. Once he's done with that, he will be busy designing Detroit Lakes' very own ice palace, which, though built on a "slightly" smaller scale than the St. Paul one, will also form the centerpiece of a celebration known as the Detroit Lakes Ice Harvest Festival, slated to begin "on or near" Dec. 15, said Scott Walz, another member of the Ice Harvest Committee.

"Ultimately Mother Nature is going to dictate everything related to the harvest," Walz added. "We need the ice to be at least 12 inches thick to begin the harvest so, we are hoping Mother Nature cooperates (on the start date)."

"This is all new to me," said Gilsdorf. "I'm learning all about ice harvesting and ice.

"We've been meeting once or twice a week since March," he added, noting that Detroit Lakes' first official ice harvest since the 1970s is going to be "a huge undertaking."

"It's all volunteer-donated time and materials," said Gilsdorf. "None of us will be making any money off of this."

"We haven't equated any of the ice harvest to pounds, but the estimated number of blocks needed from the St. Paul Ice Palace committee is 24,000 blocks of ice," Walz said. "This computes out to approximately five acres of surface area on the lake."

It's also going to take an estimated 1,000-1,500 volunteers to make it all happen, the two men noted.

"I'm very much looking forward to this challenge," Gilsdorf said, noting that the Detroit Lakes ice palace is tentatively slated to be housed in Peoples Park, and will require 315,000-325,000 pounds of ice to complete — a fraction of what will be needed for the St. Paul structure, which is being planned with an eye toward shattering a world record or two in terms of size.

For those who might be concerned about what taking that much ice from the lake will do to the water levels on Big and Little Detroit for the following summer, Walz added, "The ice harvesting conducted from the late 1800s to the 1950s harvested as much as 18 acres of ice (per season). Secondly, on an average day in July, seven times more water leaves the lake due to evaporation than will leave the lake in ice blocks from our harvest."

To call attention to the need for volunteers to not only harvest the ice, but handle all the planning and logistics for the Ice Harvest Festival, the committee is planning to have a small float in Sunday's parade as well, Gilsdorf noted.

To find out what that float will look like, as well as the finished float for the Winter Carnival visitors, Gilsdorf said that people will simply have to come to the parade on Sunday.

The Parade of the Northwest will get underway at 1 p.m., with floats and marchers starting to assemble at 11:30 a.m. in the Chamber parking lot. The route will go east on Front Street to Washington Avenue, where it will head south all the way down to the Pavilion, curling around the corner where Washington becomes West Lake Drive and continuing until just past Zorbaz.

The entire parade is expected to last approximately two hours. For more information, as well as a complete schedule of other Water Carnival events scheduled to take place during the remainder of this week, please visit

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454