Chinook Blast plans to bring life back to winter

New winter event is redefining its festival and the art of discovering your own city

Family of three playing on a teeter totter.

Calgarians can get excited for Chinook Blast starting on January 22, bringing energy to the downtown core and stretching to each quadrant of the city. 
Photo courtesy of Chinook Blast

Chinook Blast is Calgary’s newest festival to embrace our Canadian winter by celebrating art, culture, sport and music, and it’s kicking off in late January 2021. We spoke with Sara Bateman, member of Chinook Blast’s executive committee and Co-Chair of the program subcommittee about how the event is coming to life and what people can expect in the festival’s first year.


Event planning during a pandemic

Planning for Chinook Blast started over a year ago but when the pandemic hit, the organizers had to re-evaluate. Many of the participating winter events had already been cancelled or postponed, which meant Chinook Blast had to find new things to fill-in the gaps. So, they put a call out to the community and what they found surprised them.

“We’re uncovering unusual suspects – people that are like ‘hey I’ve got a pop-up puppet show’ or ‘I can do this’, so we’re actually reaching organizations that we didn’t even know had programs or had ideas for programming,” says Bateman.

The challenge continues to be finding formats that encourage outdoor winter activity but not in mass gatherings and staggering events so that people can stay spread out. “We’re trying to rethink and not pretend it’s going to be what we thought it would be,” shares Bateman. “None of us have ever planned a program like this and we’re still walking our way through it.”


"We really feel like Calgarians are going to need something where they feel safe, that they can celebrate and be out in a safe and smart way because this has been a tough year.”

Sara Bateman


An exciting development from the event’s original format is that Chinook Blast will pop-up in Calgary’s quadrants on weekends. Recognizing that it can be hard to get people downtown, the event will appear in each quadrant of the city close to facilities that can accommodate COVID guidelines.

“Those that want to go downtown where there are more pieces can, but those that maybe can’t afford it or don’t want to take transit or for a number of reasons, can still experience it one weekend in their neighborhood. We’ll choose areas that communities already gather in, so they have a sense of comfort and it’s a homebase.”


Coming together through collaboration

Chinook Blast is all about togetherness, both in the planning and as a community. Bateman credits collaboration as the key to success in the process so far. “The collaboration was there even before COVID-19 and that’s actually what keeps me at the table – we’re all wanting the same thing and willing to work through the hard conversations and this hard environment to figure out what’s best for Calgary.”

Bateman emphasizes that all partners involved are keen to see the event through. Everyone is coming to the table asking “how do we make this happen”, regardless of the return for their organization.

“We really feel like Calgarians are going to need something where they feel safe, that they can celebrate and be out in a safe and smart way because this has been a tough year.” Bateman continues, “It’s almost to provide hope – there are still things happening and it's a reminder that life didn’t end because of COVID.”


Centering the arts for the future

Bateman believes that the arts are our way of storytelling and also create a sense of belonging and connection. “You saw it a lot I think right at the beginning of COVID where people gravitated to the arts - they were reading more, they were watching online content, they wanted to hear the stories of comfort and connection.”

“Having the arts centered is the ability to hear all the voices, see all the people that we call neighbours and citizens of this city.”

When asked about the future of the arts, Bateman thinks we’ll be rebuilding for a number of years but there is going to be more focus on local talent.


"Having the arts centered is the ability to hear all the voices, see all the people that we call neighbours and citizens of this city."

Sara Bateman


“There’s so much amazing art happening in Calgary and Calgarians are the ones that don’t know about it – people across Canada know more about it – so I want Calgarians to feel proud about what’s happening in their city, to know that it’s their stories on the stages and coming from the artists.”


What to expect from Chinook Blast

The six-week festival will start on January 22 and close with Calgary Folk Fest’s Block Heater. Several events big and small are scheduled in the middle including Glow, Blues Fest, Exposure Photography Festival and Big Winter Classic. Some events are ticketed and others are free.

People will also get to experience smaller, interactive moments and visual spectacles throughout Chinook Blast locations but primarily downtown. You might stumble across snowshoe races, an art installation, outdoor firepits, bars and patios or live music.

Preliminary event lineups will be announced in November. Bateman encourages that if you’re interested in the event, share it with your family and friends. For organizations that are interested in taking part, connect with Chinook Blast online, on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

“It is just a taste of what next year will be.” Instead of waiting until 2022, the hope is that Chinook Blast will eventually grow to be the winter equivalent of the Calgary Stampede in years to come. “It will be bigger, and a celebration to embrace winter, embrace the arts and embrace sport in all we are as ‘Calgary.’”


Don’t forget to buy your Centre the Arts x Local Laundry sweater or toque to support the arts! Proceeds benefit the MRU Conservatory’s Academy Endowment Fund which provides financial support to students.