Winter in Winnipeg can be simply brutal even for the heartiest of folk. If you hail from a warmer climate just imagine days where the sun doesn’t rise until 8 am and sets before 4 pm in the depths of the season. Imagine at least 4 solid months where the mercury never rises above freezing and on most days it’s hovering somewhere around -10 to -15 Celsius. Imagine for a moment if you will of living in the city that often holds the title of coldest city on the planet.
Is it any wonder why then in the middle of this madness we affectionately call winter that we hardy fools bundle up and head out into the winter darkness to enjoy Festival du Voyager. A predominantly french cultural affair that celebrates the men and women who opened up this part of the country during the fur trade of the 17 and 1800’s.
Travelling mainly by birch bark canoe, hauling their heavy packs laden with supplies and fur to the next camp along the route. These voyageurs opened the heart of the Canadian wilderness to trade and conquest. Originally intermarrying with the native peoples they gave rise to the Metis people.
The Festival du Voyageur celebrates the joie de vivre or joy of life that these men had as they paddled down the lakes and rivers in search of fur for fashions of Europe. Every year a snow sculpture competition brings teams from around the world to compete for top prize in this prestigious event. Beard growing was also in fashion during the cold winter months while in camp and is represented at the festival with a yearly battle.
The heart of the festival is Fort Gibraltar located in the Winnipeg’s french quarter of St. Boniface. Upon entering the fort the smell of roasting meats and the sounds of revelry greet ones senses. A meal of tourtière with a glass of caribou (fortified wine) fills empty bellies, while traditional Metis fiddle music and dancing happens all around you.
Those who want to brave the cold are encouraged to venture around St. Boniface to see the delicate works of snow sculpture before they soon melt with the coming spring thaw. Winnipeg embraces visitors with a hearty bonjour mes amis, welcome my friends. Stay and enjoy our hospitality. The winters here may be cold but our hearts and our homes are always warm.
In closing I give you local fiddle phenom Sierra Noble with The Duck Dance.