The Story of Frosty Fest by Dave Carrol (@DaveCarrol)

There wasn’t always a Frosty Fest that drew 15,000 people together to celebrate the Family Day Weekend in Harmony Square. In fact, there wasn’t always a Harmony Square. In fact, there was an ice carving’s chance in hell that 15,000 would ever gather together downtown, period! The story of Frosty Fest is the story of how nothing can become something… and how something can become something amazing.  


Freedom House has always valued serving and blessing our leaders. So we decided to put this principle into practice. When Harmony Square opened to the public in 2008 we simply approached Lori Dawn Cavin, then the events director in the square, and asked, “How can we help you do a great job and how can we help serve the city in the square?”  We started small by helping with the family entertainment before the summer movies in the square, which we still do to this day. See, that’s how relationships are built.


As summer turned to fall, the city was delighted by the marvellous Brantford International Jazz Festival. Lori Dawn had an idea. An idea is an amazing thing. It is born, seemingly, from thin air and with a little partnership becomes something tangible. Trying to manufacture an idea can sometimes feel like Mr. Pitt’s struggle to find a spaceship in the 3D art. The best ideas just… HIT. It’s a divine thing.  


In an off-hand conversation with Freedom House’s Brian Beattie she said, “I wish we could have something that’s big like the Jazz Festival… only in the winter. Like a winter carnival or something. Do you think that you guys could do a winter carnival?” Brian, with gooey and idyllic (yet petrified) eyes said, “OF COURSE WE CAN!” That afternoon he emailed me saying, “We’d better start Googling, ‘How to run a winter carnival’ because we’re about to run one!”  And that was it. Well, that and a massive volunteer team, six annual months of planning, and more than a few prayers for frosty (but not TOO frosty) weather in mid February.  


If you’ve never been to Frosty Fest, it’s delightful. If you catch just the right moment, you’ll find yourself in a Norman Rockwell painting… lost in the mesmerizing art of ice carving, having long-buried memories unearthed while eating snow taffy like your great grandfather used to make, as children ice skate in the gently falling snow. This place exists in Brantford. It enriches your soul, revives your appreciation for winter and tastes like a warm Canadian tonic right at the moment of winter when it’s most needed. This February 15-17 will mark the 5th anniversary of the Frosty Fest experience.


Why would a church do this, though? Frosty Fest is a ton of work. When Brian agreed to it, we had no idea how much work it would be. The reason we do it is to see transformation through kindness. It’s God’s love displayed in a practical way. In January, Freedom House celebrated its 10th anniversary as a Ministry Centre… where church happens too. We started it to be an agent of holistic revival in our city. Holistic because it’s about all of us (not just some of us) being changed, “BY good INTO good” like my alter-ego Captain Kindness says. We were (and still are) ready to work to see it happen.  


When Jesus was asked what the most important rules were, He gave his followers two. Rule #1: Love God. Rule #2: Love Others. The rest is gravy. When you see lanyards around the necks of some of our volunteers during Frosty Fest saying, “Rule #2,” it’s our way of reminding ourselves that whether we’re cooking up funnel cakes, running The Wrecking Ball inflatable game, or feelin’ the chill in the bones from helping kids down the snow slide for long hours, it’s about loving others. And so it MEANS something more.


Two years ago during the annual Family Day apple cider toast in hand-carved ice goblets, Mayor Chris Friel looked out over the largest collection of people that I had ever seen downtown at a single time in my life. He said words that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget them because, like Frosty Fest itself, they illustrated an old idea that suddenly… WAS. He said, “This is the watershed moment in the transformation of our downtown.” A decade ago, sitting with 4 or 5 other couples in an old, rundown bar on Market Street with a baby named Freedom House, we dreamed and prayed that one day God would use our humble offerings to infuse REAL life into the social, economic, cultural and spiritual lives of Brantfordians.


We’ve had quite a substantial number of churches in North America and beyond contact us to ask how they too can do a winter carnival. We tell them… DON’T! Not unless a winter carnival meets a need in their community. The reason why Frosty Fest worked was that it was meeting a need. It was created for an area where there was nothing, an area that needed something living. We get them to study demographics, analyze holes, talk to leaders and serve their vision. Then we tell them to be prepared to say, “YES we’ll help!”


Over the years I’ve realized that there is no “they.” You’ll regularly hear The Critic refer to this mythical beast. “They should fix that,” or “They should take care of that,” you’ll hear. But there is no “they.” Any THING that is done, is done by someone who sees a need and meets it. And if nobody does something… nothing gets done.  


A city is what a city does. It is the sum of it’s parts. But, each part came from an idea, from an aloof thought in the shower about what could be or should be. All it takes is saying, “Sure I’ll do that!” Saying yes and being actively kind is a powerful, counter-cultural overthrow of the self-centredness our society is plagued with. The cure of kindness is something ordinary people like you and I possess. Those who will have the courage to stand up and say, “Here you go. This is for you. I see value in you.” will shape our future.


We made Frosty Fest… for you. We made it because we love you. I can’t wait to share Family Day Weekend together with you. 

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