New Zealander spends his holidays in Edmonton, building an igloo

A New Zealand man who has spent the past five weeks in Edmonton found a unique way to spend his time.

Daniel Gray and his girlfriend Kathleen Starrie came to Edmonton from New Zealand to spend the holidays with Starrie’s family. Never in a million years did Gray think he’d end up spending his time building an igloo.

“My girlfriend’s mother had a brilliant idea of building an igloo and thought it would keep me busy, away from her daughter in some respect,” said Gray.

“I wanted to keep him occupied, not with my daughter necessarily. I wanted to keep him busy with something else,” Starrie’s mother Brigid Burton said with a laugh, “I didn’t want (Dan) to just be twiddling his thumbs while he’s here in Canada so I thought, this needs to be something that’s got some meat to it.”

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“It’s pretty typical. I wasn’t really too shocked,” Starrie said of her mother’s request. “It wasn’t presented as an optional thing,” she added with a laugh.

Preparation on the igloo began months ago. Anticipating the couple’s visit, Burton started collecting milk cartons in October, filling them with coloured water and freezing them to make ice blocks.

“You need to collect hundreds of cartons, hundreds and hundreds of cartons,” said Starrie.

And so the construction began. The couple, along with help from Starrie’s parents and a neighbour, spent five days building the giant ice structure in the Burtons’ backyard. Much of the work was done during Edmonton’s cold snap, when the temperature hovered around the -25 degree mark.

“We kind of prepared well and went to the store and got some toe warmers and hand warmers and all of that and just dressed warmly. We’d only work for about two hours maximum at a time, and then go inside and warm up,” explained Gray.

While it started as a bit of a tedious job, the engineer grew to enjoy the job.

“Once I started building it, it was something I just really wanted to finish, because you can’t just leave something like that unfinished,” said Gray.

“There was a few calculations involved, mostly regarding an estimation of how many blocks we would require, just based on it being a spherical shape,” he added.

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Originally, Gray thought the best way to build the igloo would be to cut each of the ice blocks so they would fit together perfectly. Instead, he used what he now calls “snowcrete” to put the ice blocks together.

“(It) is just snow and water but, it sticks really well to the ice,” Gray said, “The snowcrete just shaped and moulded however you wanted so it made it possible.”

In total, the group spent about 150 hours carefully putting about 500 ice blocks together, one by one, to build the colourful igloo.

“I thought we’d just take the bricks of ice and just kind of, almost throw them out there and make an igloo,” Burton said with a hearty laugh.”(It was) a lot more difficult, truly.”

“I was hoping it would take a while, I didn’t realize it would take as long as it did,” she added.

But, it appears there’s now a bit of a different tune to Burton’s motives.

“The reason that she’s given since she decided it was such a big job was that she would allow me to marry her daughter, so I guess I’ve accomplished that,” Gray said.

“(I said) to Dan, you know if you want my daughter’s hand you have to complete this, and he did it!” Burton added.

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Although the couple has been together for nearly four years, it doesn’t appear as though Gray and Starrie are in any rush to tie the knot.

“It’s a ways down the track at this point. We’re still young, I feel,” said Gray.

“We’re pretty happy to wait for a while,” added Starrie.

Gray is proud of his accomplishment but, he’s also very happy the job is finally done.

“It was a lot of work so, it’s nice to actually have it there,” he said, “It’s been joked about that I have to sleep in it but, I don’t think it’ll be happening.”

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