Shouting fire in a snow castle

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We’re told the front page headline in Monday’s News/North caused a lot of talk in coffee shops in the city.

Fire alarms in a snow castle?” is what was printed there, in the capital edition, in black and white for all to see.

Yes, just imagine a late-night talk show host having fun with that bit of small town news.

That information came to us from the Snowking himself, Anthony Foliot, who was expressing frustrating with the increasing level of bureaucracy breathing down his neck each year surrounding the annual Snowking Winter Festival.

In a statement, now on the NNSL Facebook page, Foliot makes a plea to, “help save the Snowcastle from fire!”

He states the “non-negotiable wish-list’ from the Office of the Fire Marshal includes:
– Hard-wired klaxon fire alarms.
– Hundreds of feet of in-cavity wiring, for exit signs and klaxons.
– Building-code compliant water closets, or outhouses.
– And an architect-approved castle design.

Last year, organizers had to comply with an order to implement the exit signs and smoke detectors to the tune of $7,000, leading the non-profit festival to run a deficit, said Foliot.

This year’s additional safety requirements will cost $6,000, states the festival.

We will give fire marshal Chucker Dewar, who declined to comment for Monday’s story, the benefit of doubt. In today’s super-safety conscious world, he cannot afford to buck the trend. He must ensure facilities enjoyed by the public – even those made mostly from snow and ice – are free of fire hazards and prepared for even very unlikely events – such as fire in a snow castle.

Justin Trudeau tries his hand at sawing snow blocks with assistance from Snowking Anthony Foliot during the prime minister’s visit to Yellowknife in February. Such scenes may become a thing of the past if some relief from increased regulatory burdens imposed by the GNWT’s Office of the Fire Marshal aren’t found fast. NNSL file photo

Even a small fire in a crowded snow castle – especially at night when the castle plays host to a number of entertainment events – could prove catastrophic if people become disoriented while trying to exit.

The problem with government on this issue – and the Office of the Fire Marshal is government – is that it wants to pat the Snowking festival on the back while kicking it in the pants.

The Prime Minister’s Office obviously deemed the castle safe enough last February after Justin Trudeau showed up for a snow-cutting photo-op in February. On its recruitment website, the territorial government pitches the wonders of the Snowking festival to prospective employees down south.

Yet after 23 years without any fire we’re aware of, suddenly the thick tentacles of bureaucracy feel now is the time to give the festival a squeeze.

This business about requiring an architect-approved design is now a permanent annual expense. As Foliot points out, the castle must be redesigned and rebuilt every year because, well, it melts.

The powers that be must surely realize that unlike, say, Green Gables on Prince Edward Island or the Calgary Stampede, all that stands between having a Snowking festival one year and not having one the next is Foliot and his trusty band of builders. If they decide tomorrow to throw away their snow shovels, that’s it. No more snow castle.

The fact organizers feel they must hold a raffle to raise money to cover the expense of the fire marshal’s demands is a troubling development, one surely borne out of desperation.

Considering how the festival is a non-profit organization and is of great benefit to the cultural vitality of our community and a major tourism draw, it behooves the GNWT, under whose authority the fire marshal resides, to help the festival with these expenses. The alternative is to regulate it out of existence.

The city doesn’t need a Disneyland on Yellowknife Bay. People just want the Snowking Winter Festival to return each March.

And for it to be covered in snow, not smothered by red tape.