Sorry sport, but Jack Frost doesn’t love our family

It’s time again for the midwinter Jack Frost Children’s WinterFest here in Charlottetown.

I’m going to set aside any commentary I might have about, say, the absurdity of using fossil-fuel-powered machines to make snow (the mind boggles at the self-fulfilling prophecy of it all), or importing ice from Upper Canada, or the overwhelming brand saturation of the event to point out its most egregious fault: it’s expensive.

Tickets for the weekend are $14 per person. There’s no special rate for children, and no family rate.

At the Prince Street School Home and School Association meeting this week it was pointed out that the high ticket price puts the festival out of reach of many downtown families. Imagine if you’re a lower-income family with four kids: you’re looking at $70 to get in the door.

Now I’m sure that to many $14 seems like a fair price — “it’s only the price of a movie and popcorn!” But for many others this is a lot of money; the sad irony is that many lower-income families live in downtown Charlottetown within shouting distance of the festival venue and yet cannot afford to attend.

Of course the Jack Frost Children’s WinterFest isn’t actually designed to be a festival for the local community: here is the way it was described at a public meeting of Charlottetown City Council in 2005:

We felt that working parents are seeking to spend quality time with their children and research shows that parents will come and spend time to create those memories as compensation for today’s hectic work schedule. In February you all know that there is pent up demand to get away and parents are searching for things to do with their children in these months. One could refer to Crystal Palace. … The objective of the Jack Frost Children’s WinterFest was to develop a festival during the winter months resulting in significant off-Island visitation and economic impact Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island.

So if you’re a harried double-income middle-class family in West Royalty or Moncton or Halifax you’re in the heart of the festival’s target demographic. If you happen to be a “non-working parent” with less disposable income, well, that’s just too bad. Unfortunately these demographic distinctions are lost on most children.

Catherine asked Oliver not to talk about the fact that he’s going to the Festival this weekend because she knows that a lot of the kids in his class can’t afford to go. That’s just wrong.


DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on February 23, 2008 - 12:24 Permalink

In response to similar complaints, the organizers did introduce a one-day Sunday pass last year. However, the price of this, which I think was $9 last year, is $10 in advance, or $13 at the door, plus taxes, which is no real bargain. A family pass would be an excellent idea.
Having attended the fireworks and toured the magnificant ice sculptures last night, I notice that the ticket prices are no deterrant to attendance at this event. Personally, I find the three day advance pass a good value, and getting people outdoors and away from video games and TV has to be a good thing. The pricing per hour of entertainment beats a movie or a video game rental by a long shot, and is certainly much cheaper than a visit to Disney World or even Crystal Palace. There are children’s shows (thankfully moved indoors this year), ice slides, mazes etc. at the main venue, a midway and petting zoo at another, and Lego to play with at the mall. Where else can you get two days and two evenings’ entertainment for fourteen bucks? We’ve been every year, and applaud Ms. Green and the city for doing the tremendous amount of work needed to put on an event like this.

John's picture
John on February 23, 2008 - 13:07 Permalink

Surely events of this scale require a number of volunteers and would compensate them with at least one pass. No?

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on February 23, 2008 - 15:41 Permalink

Yes — they were looking for volunteers the other day to shore up the rain-sodden maze, and were offering event passes to them. There were lots of volunteers in evidence last night doing things such as security, sanding of icy surfaces, etc. I expect all received event passes. Volunteering is certainly one way for those who cannot afford the full admission price to gain free entry passes.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 23, 2008 - 18:13 Permalink

Yes and why not close the circle and give the poor children jobs at the event so they can at least participate in that way. Seriously, this is just bad planning. Why are all events based around the pass. Why not have a mix of free and ticketed events as is common in other communities which are not so obsessed with tourists?

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on February 24, 2008 - 01:19 Permalink

Back from the madhouse — WAY too many people there this year — all the tickets are now sold out. If, as Alan suggests, some of the events had been free, I am not sure where they would have put the people.

Ann's picture
Ann on February 24, 2008 - 16:35 Permalink

Next year, why not organize a fund to provide low coat tickets to people who can’t afford them. Or give tickets to all the students at Prince Street school…That would cost less than $3000 and I’ll bet you could get people to donate.
The idea of getting the poor children to work to “earn” their admission might be a little insensitive.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 24, 2008 - 17:58 Permalink

I thought we already had a “fund to provide low cost tickets to people who can’t afford them.” It’s called “government.” This is a public event, on public land, sponsored by a public body. For it to be priced out of the reach of all isn’t just.

And to force those who can’t afford access into indentured servitude to gain access is unconscionable.

Sandy's picture
Sandy on February 24, 2008 - 22:34 Permalink

I do agree that it is expensive for a family to attend the event (that’s part of the reason we decided not to purchase passes this year), but compared to the 1 hour children’s concert that was held recently at the Confed Centre for about the same price, it seems like a bargain.

I just checked the Confed Centre schedule — the show was Little Bear and it cost $15 per person and was 60 minutes long. Now that seems like a lot of money for a very short show!

Jennifer's picture
Jennifer on February 25, 2008 - 02:13 Permalink

For a community to embrace a festival, it must have a way to appeal to the entire community. By making this a ticket-only event, we missed the opportunity to children from low-income families.

The ticket price seemed reasonable for me and my 10-year-old “little sister”, but we paid more once pass the gates, including an insane $18 for a pizza and fries lunch that had seen better days. (And by-the-way, our passes were not even checked ONCE, so why bother ticketing this event???)

What ever happened to Charlottetown’s “Winter Carnival”??? I remember growing up with a FREE parade, FREE concerts, and FREE snow activities…The Jack Frost Festival is a commercial enterprise, and needs to be recognized as such instead of its “community-friendly” billing.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on February 25, 2008 - 04:03 Permalink

I don’t recall seeing the event billed as “community friendly”. It’s a children’s festival, sponsored by a number of corporate entities to help keep the price within reach. As for the expensive food, we ate elsewhere. For those looking for free events, Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall all offer a variety of carnivals and festivals throughout the year, but, as they say “you get what you pay for” and none of them compare to this event for quality entertainment at a fair price.

Jack Frost continues to be one of the best values around, offering three days of entertainment at four venues for just $14 a person. Some of this year’s highlights for us included the “planatarium in a tent” at the Science Fair, and hours of Lego fun at the mall. Neither of these were overly commercialized and were both fun and educational.
By way of comparison, a 2 1/2 hour PEI Rocket game at the government-subsidized Civic Centre cost the three of us $39 recently. Monster Trucks at the same venue, should we be so inclined, would cost the three of us $61.25.
The Moscow Circus, coming up in a few days at the government-subsidized Confederation Centre of the Arts, would cost two adults and a child a whopping $105!
By the way, today was particularly enjoyable, with short lines due to the departure of most of the New Brunswickans for the Fixed Link, and the weather was the best this festival has ever experienced (I’ve been every year, and we’ll be back).

Nathan's picture
Nathan on February 25, 2008 - 05:56 Permalink

Jack Frost is relatively wholesome and cheap when compared to other forms of commercial entertainment. I think what has left people out in the cold though is that Jack Frost was the replacement for free community events held in Victoria Park in past years.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 25, 2008 - 16:52 Permalink

It’s becoming clear to me now that what has happened here is this:

The City of Charlottetown has, in essence, privatized its mid-winter celebration, outsourcing it to an tourism industry-controlled body over which the City extends little if any influence.

Unfortunately this was done without any requirement that the private body that’s running the festival pay any heed to things that a public body should pay attention to: for example ensuring that the event is inclusive of all income levels.

It’s hard to hold the private body at fault here — they are more like the Coca-Cola company trying to get everyone to drink Coke than they are “community group” and clearly their objectives don’t include a social justice component.

Clearly the responsibility for working towards a more equitable event lies with the City; it’s unclear, however, if the City has enough means at its disposal — leverage, if you will — to effect changes.

James's picture
James on February 26, 2008 - 03:54 Permalink

I grew up in Charlottetown during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s… I still have fond memories of sitting in the ice-cold Simmons Arena, waiting for the mascot dog Charlie Town, or watching an old-timers hockey game with my Dad over at the old Charlottetown Forum. I also remember skating with hundreds (possibly thousands?) of people on the harbour ice off the Victoria Park cannons, taking sleigh rides (which were free — I was just on the phone with my parents reminiscing) and taking part in nature hikes snowshoeing in Victoria Park where a biologist pointed out many things to several dozen or more kids tripping and falling over themselves behind him. Peter raises a very good point regarding the obscenity that the Jack Frost Festival has become — in contrast the Charlottetown Winter Carnival was designed around the people in the community and was unpretentious and it was never designed to be expensive in the first place and it was never designed to make money and fill hotel rooms. If we had a mild week one February, things moved indoors to the arenas and curling club, otherwise it was held outdoors. Perhaps organizers at Tourism Charlottetown of the present-day incarnation are banking on provincial funding and lots of out-of-town visitors to justify paying year-round salaries for marketing staff, and perhaps these same organizers are pointing out that the old Charlottetown Winter Carnival was much too amateurish for the “Birthplace of Confederation” (which is aiming to punch above the belt for its weight class), and perhaps these organizers also note that kids in the 2000s have changed — they are the Internet generation and don’t play outdoors, like everything to be structured, they don’t have parents around at home very often, etc. etc. so the Jack Frost Festival is not a money-making venture, but rather, a service to families….


Just can the big hoopla and bring back the original carnival.

Or can the fees. Notice that Quebec City’s winter carnival doesn’t charge fees just to be there? There are small fees for certain attractions, but you are free to walk around in PUBLIC SPACE without any charge in that city.

Not so for the publicly owned Confederation Landing Park. Kudos to those advocates who have been after the city for hosting fee-based activities in Victoria Park.

I live in Nova Scotia now and have had several opportunities to return to Ch’town to work, but the place just isn’t the same as it was in the 1980s. That intimacy is lost forever as the urban area has doubled or tripled in size since then. I would urge civic leaders to attempt to return some of that back to the city and bring back the community-oriented activities for CHARLOTTETOWNERS. Not everything must be done for tourists or non-city residents or the almighty dollar. Bring back the community focus and you might get a heck of a lot more ex-pats such as myself returning on a permanent basis as well.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on February 26, 2008 - 04:39 Permalink

Thank-you, James.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 26, 2008 - 14:33 Permalink

A friend, with his three children, showed up hoping to buy tickets at the gate only to be told they were sold out. He reports an unusual conversation that began with where he lived. When “Stratford” was thought to be in Ontario it seemed there was going to be some extra effort to find him tickets, but when it was discovered that he lived about a mile away it seems they were indeed sold out.

Leo's picture
Leo on February 26, 2008 - 19:40 Permalink

I think the tourism establishment were also part of the group pushing the HST which would have resulted in higher costs on home heating fuel. electricity, clothing and shoes which would have had the most negative impact on poorer Islanders who would have had to pay out a higher percentage of their income for such necessities and am sure many working Islanders who are quite poor and consequently have poorer children may work in many of the low wage accomodation/food service and other categories which also cater to tourists. I do not think the tourism establishment who promote The Jack Frost and some other related festivals think of the have/have not divide they are creating re admission to such events. It is likely the farthest thing from their minds.

Scott's picture
Scott on March 10, 2008 - 19:43 Permalink

I think some people are failing to realize why the Jack Frost Festival was created. It was never intended as a replacement to any other Charlottetown winter festival. The idea was simply drawn up as a potential way of boosting a local economy which relies heavily on tourism during slow winter months. The city of Charlottetown is working hard for local businesses by finding sponsors and promoting/staging this event each year. Small businesses are crucial to the island economy and form the main employment base. With respect to the festival being too expensive, PLAN FOR IT. If you want to be able to take the family next year, you have until February of 2009 to find $90 (this should be enough for 2 adults and 4 children). That is roughly $8 a month. I know times are not easy for a lot of people and the festival is only two months after the financial sting of Christmas, but this is not a lot of money given the amount of time to produce it. It’s either a priority or it’s not, but don’t cry about it being out of the realm of possibility.

With respect to losing out on other community events of the past, I agree people should be offended, but this matter is separate from the Jack Frost Festival and should be taken to city council as a lack of social programming. In fact the city’s change in attitude from hosting Jack Frost to support local business, to being a mutually financial success, could be used as an argument to fund more free activities for the local community.

Melinda's picture
Melinda on October 29, 2008 - 17:55 Permalink

another good idea if you think the ticket price is to expensive to dish out right after christmas, is to give your child the pass as a christmas gift. or better yet have that family member who asks what to get the kids to buy them for you. I have a 5 year old son and 3 young neices/nefews who look forward to getting their weekend passes in a greating card from nanny&poppy