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Winter Carnival a family affair 0

MIRANDA MINASSIAN
One of the casino's many dipping groups heads for the frigid waters of Lake Couchiching during the annual polar bear dip, Sunday. This year brave plungers raised funds for the Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital neonatal care unit.

One of the casino's many dipping groups heads for the frigid waters of Lake Couchiching during the annual polar bear dip, Sunday. This year brave plungers raised funds for the Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital neonatal care unit.

For most, Orillia's Winter Carnival is a family affair.

For Darrin Wale and Sherry Allen, the weekend event is also a bit of a love affair.

It was Wale's sacred tradition of carving a carnival snow sculpture that brought the pair together.

"I've only been doing it five years," Allen said, standing in front of the family's semi-etched-out Smurf.

"She only started to flirt with me," retorted Wale immediately.

For the past 10 years, Wale has taken leave of his job to work on his snow sculptures. Five years ago, a lull in volunteer help from his buddies brought the pair together.

"None of his friends were up for it so I brought him hot chocolate and a camera. Now he is stuck with me," Allen joked. "I always say only in Ontario would we shovel snow for fun."

Since the pair got together, their blended families have been brought into the cartoon-snowman-making fold.

"I got forced into it, but now I kinda like it," Liam Allen said, grinning. "It isn't so bad, and it is exercise."

Year after year, the family devotes about 16 hours over the course of the weekend to their labour of love - regardless of the weather.

"When you see the kids come up, and sit in front of it... that is why I make it," Wale said. "It is our own tradition."

This year, the Allen-Wale Smurf snow sculpture was finished just in time for Sunday's carnival finale: the much loved Polar Bear Dip.

With her father Paul Peden unable to dive because of nose surgery, 10-year-old Marina-Rose Peden kept her father's 12-year dipping streak alive by taking the plunge on his behalf.

"I'm excited and nervous. I did it last year and it was cold," she said.

There to cheer her on and join her in the dive was first-time dipper and fellow Regent Park Public School student, Hannah Johnson.

"It was fun," she said after emerging from the frigid waters. "I would do it again next year, for sure."

After finding out this year's plunge was in support of the neonatal intensive care unit at Orillia Soldiers' Memoril Hospital, the pair were anxious to their part support, raising more than $130 for the cause.

As usual, hundreds of people lined Couchiching Beach to encourage dippers and gawk at their bravery.

Carnival president Chad Cooke, who last year said he would absolutely never take the plunge, was the first in the water this year, with the help of his son.

Cooke said while this year's attendance was down slightly over last year, changes to the carnival were well received.

"The Zorb racing was a big hit and people like the ice maze as a change," he said. "It was cold, but over all it was one of our better years."


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