Photo by Chris Marchand

Frigid weather inspires colourful backyard ice fort in Northern Ontario

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When the temperature plummeted this winter in Dryden, Ontario, Chris Marchand hatched a plan to get his family and friends into his backyard to enjoy winter again. And all it took was the kitchen sink. He built a solid and aesthetically beautiful fort made of ice blocks.

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Marchand created the fort by filling up plastic containers with water and food colouring in the kitchen and then leaving them outside for 12 hours to freeze.

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The fort came together out of experimentation and a will to do something—anything—outside. The -25°C weather was taking a toll on his usual winter activities, so throughout the course of a cold period lasting about four weeks, he was able to freeze approximately 30 blocks a day. This eventually led to hundreds of ice blocks coming together in an impressive 25’ x 25’ fort that encases a fire pit, an ice bench, and patio furniture.

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When creating the blocks, he learned that a nine-litre plastic container in the shape of a shoebox was his best tool—it could allow for the expansion and the frozen blocks came out easily without requiring hot water to release them.

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The addition of food colouring came about to fulfill a request from his wife. “(She) was starting to get a little wary as the blocks began to fill the driveway.” So the colours made the ice block pile more visible to anyone pulling in. “I wish I knew more about how to freeze flawless, perfectly clear ice, or how to get colouring to freeze uniformly throughout the block (it concentrates in the last to freeze part of the ice),” he explains.

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Though the addition of the food colouring was an accident, it was a happy one, as was the incorporation of some LED lights encased in ice, which his friend called “the holiday version of throwing the toaster in the bathtub.” Luckily, he says, “The LEDs don’t even generate enough heat to melt the surrounding ice.”

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When building the walls, he erected them on top of a one-foot pony wall of snow compacted using plywood scraps, and he mixed snow and water to make a slush mortar to hold the ice blocks together, which froze within a matter of minutes. Fort 9 He spent five or six nights stacking the blocks and completing the structure.

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As impressive as this fort is, we are also marveling over his night photography, which he captured with the help of halogen work lights or camera flashes, and which his family made more interesting by playing with sparklers.

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So, would he go through all the trouble to create this inspiring outdoor haven again? “I will likely never do this again! Unless I can find a more efficient way to make ice,” he says.

But judging from these images, it was certainly a worthwhile way to warm up to a very cold winter.

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Special thanks to Chris Marchand for sharing these amazing photos on Reddit.