PLANT

Turning ice into cold-carved profits


January 19, 2009
by Noelle Stapinsky

Iceculture Inc. owner Julian Bayley turned a hobby into a global leader in the hospitality ice business.

Photo: Stephen Uhraney

During the 1970s in the rural town of Hensall, Ont., Julian Bayley and his wife Jane ran a catering business. Julian, a self-taught ice carver, also made a little dough on the side by carving punch bowls out of ice for their clients.

Then a carver asked if the Bayleys could make crystal-clear ice blocks. After a little research the Bayleys discovered an ice block machine by Cinebell Equipment Inc., a Colorado-based ice making equipment manufacturer.

“We started making blocks and more carvers asked for them,” says Julian Bayley. “Today we have 150 [of those] machines.”

A few decades later, his hobby has evolved into a $5-million family business recognized as a global leader in the hospitality ice business, producing hundreds of crystal-clear blocks that are used to create ornate ice sculptures and constructions around the world. The family now harvests up to 100 blocks a day, and exports 75% of the company’s production.

Officially formed in 1991, Iceculture Inc. has grown to a staff of 60 with four divisions: ice block manufacturing, carving services, equipment and artistic design. Heidi, one of Bayley’s daughters, heads up the carving services division. His son Sam is in charge of artistic design, and his other daughter, Christine Rose, leads the North American sales team.

Together this family affair has pioneered more innovation in the ice industry over the past 10 years than has been achieved in centuries.

So what’s the big deal about making ice? We all know how to make it—water goes into a tray and then into the freezer. The result, though, is usually a milky cube containing bubbles, cracks and possibly the odd fly if it’s summer. But to make a crystal-clear block that’s suitable for carving great art, a little innovative technology and some science are needed. First, the water is run through an onsite filtration system, and then the Cinebell machine, with its bottom-end freezing lines, comes into play. Freezing the water from the bottom up creates clear blocks. The water is constantly moving during this process so impurities float to the top to be siphoned off. When the ice is formed, a band saw trims it into 101.6- x 50.8- x 25.4-cm blocks and packaged. About 25,000 of these blocks, the backbone of Iceculture’s business, are pumped out of the Hensall facility each year and shipped throughout North America and to Britain, South Africa, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Iceland and Norway.