Ice is essential for many things.
Ice keeps food and drinks cold. We need ice for hockey, curling and other winter sports. And if your plan is to make some of the best ice sculptures around, you will need a great quantity of ice.
In the days before refrigerators, it took a great deal of work and planning to ensure ice was there when needed. Locally ice was harvested from the Oldman River, Henderson Lake, McLean Lake (informally known as Jail Lake) and basically, from whatever frozen lake or river where one could be guaranteed to find 14 inches of good, thick ice. The ice had to not only be thick but also clear, which meant it could not have frozen snow layered inside the ice.
Once perfect ice was located, the ice harvest started. Ice saws were used to cut the blocks. Each block of ice generally weighed between 40 and 50 pounds. Kate Andrews (the first chair of the college’s board of governors and the person for whom the Andrews building was named) left her children a description of early life in Lethbridge.
She wrote a description of how the ice was harvested: “When the blocks were broken free they were floated in a channel to the loading platform. There a team hoisted the blocks up a skidway to the platform, by tongs fastened to a chain and pulley. From the platform six or eight blocks were loaded into a wagon and hauled by team to the ice house up town, for storage….Every ice harvest was made exciting by a man slipping into the river, or the ice breaking and letting horses, wagon and teamster through.”
The ice was stored in ice houses, layered with sawdust and straw, until needed by consumers. The ice men would deliver blocks to customers and businesses. This continued until electricity and home refrigerators eventually brought an end to the ice harvests and the ice companies.
Despite our storied history of local ice, sometimes your refrigerator ice just isn’t large enough or grand enough for really big, important projects. Each spring, Culinary students at Lethbridge College receive delivery of huge blocks of ice from Calgary to practice their ice carving skills (see story and photos on page 12).
Ice and ice delivery, it is clear, is part of a long Lethbridge tradition.