Origins of the First Winter Carnival

Several Eastern newspaper correspondents kindled the start of the Winter Carnival by visiting Saint Paul in the fall of 1885 and returning home to report that Minnesota, in general, was another Siberia, unfit for human habitation. A group of business owners decided they would not take these comments lightly and retaliated by creating a wintertime festival starting in 1886, which would showcase all the beauty of Minnesota winters. This longtime tradition remains the oldest winter festival in the U.S., predating the Tournament of Roses Festival by two years!

Watch the video below to learn more!

Did you know in 1886…

  • The 1st Ice Palace was located in an area known as “Central Park” – north of the downtown area and between Cedar Street and Robert Street where the Minnesota Armory is currently located and not far from the State Capitol.
  • Many of the other events such as toboggan slide, ice skating and curling all took place in the area around the ice palace.
  • The ice palace of 1886 was one of the first structures in the city to have electricity (for lighting)! Weddings and special events took place at the palace.
  • The 1886 palace was designed by brothers A.J. and J.H. Hutchinson who previously designed ice palaces in Montreal, Canada.
  • Over 20,000 ice blocks were used for the 1886 palace and a cost of $5,210.. (100 years later the 1986 palace cost $200,00. And in 1992, it cost over $1 million for the ice palace!)
  • It took 200 workers/volunteers to construct the ice palace in 3 weeks.
  • Many businesses promoted the Ice Palace using their company names for advertising.
  • At the site of the 1st ice palace, there was a “horse path” that ran in front of the palace. The name of the path (later street): “Aurora”.
  • There was 9 parades conducted. 
  • Buttons didn’t look like how they do now. The 1886 buttons featured three very collectible medallions (pictured below). 

1886 In Photos (click-thru):


A celebration of Diverse Cultures

In preparation for the 1886 Winter Carnival, one of the earliest residents of St Paul, Mr. Auguste Louis Larpenteur, invited representatives from the Dakota Indians, also known as the Eastern Sioux, to demonstrate daily life in Minnesota and allowed to set up an Indian Village outside the walls of the ice palace. Many of the activities were designed to show Carnival visitors aspects of tribal living and rituals. There was cooking, dancing and singing events. One year a war dance was demonstrated after which representatives from the Sioux invited representatives from the visiting Ojibwe tribe to share a peace pipe. Many members from the various marching groups purchased authentic Indian moccasins from the Native American women.Indian villages and Sioux families were a key participant in the 1886, 1887, 1888, and 1896 Winter Carnivals.

The Saint Paul Winter Carnival celebrates winter like only Minnesotans can, and we’ve been creating winter magic for 136 years!

Winter Carnival Song

We hope you’ll “Come to Carnival” and celebrate this special Anniversary year with us! 

More Great Resources

Looking for more great history about the Saint Paul Winter Carnival? Visit the Minnesota Historical Society’s online database and the Ramsey County Historical Society’s online database and search, “Winter Carnival.”

Thank you and credit to the Minnesota Historical Society; the Ramsey County Historical Society; archives of the Pioneer Press and “Fire and Ice” by Moira Harris for helping contribute to this collection of History! Also, thank you to Winter Carnival’s own, Tom Barrett & Darrin Johnson, for helping us digitize all this history!