Mid-Winter Magic: Festival du Voyageur is Almost Here.

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.

The beginnings of a snow sculpture.

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.

Carved from snow, a giant bird guards her egg.

Tourtière for supper! Two Voyageurs enjoy a hearty meal.

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.

Three Voyageurs clasp arms in friendship.

Voyageur close up.

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.

2010 Festival du Voyageur beard growing contest (Photo – Jennamidget via Flicker)

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.

Local Metis Fiddler Sierra Nobel

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.

16 responses to “Mid-Winter Magic: Festival du Voyageur is Almost Here.

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  2. Very cool!!! Definitely something to look forward to during the long cold days of winter.

    Who gets to make those big blocks of snow for the sculptures?

    Looking forward to Spring. We have had epic amounts of snow this year. The good thing is we usually do not have 2 winters in a row with that much snow. I am sure the 2011 snow removal budgets have been exhausted already.

    • Hi Red! We have had a very long winter, setting snowfall records and draining our snow clearing budget also. When spring hits it’s looking like major flooding here. Massive snowfall south of us in the Dakotas plus what we have here does not bode well for a dry spring.

      Festival is always a good time, we normally get a bit of a warm snap to break the continuum of cold. The only thing that sucks about that is it’s hard on the snow sculptures.

  3. Seeing where your city is located, do you ever have a winter without flooding?

    Someone should set a camera up to note the melting of the snow statues and then speed it up! A shame to see all the hard work turned to water.

  4. #3 gets my beard vote 😉

    • #3 hardly had a beard at all. Hmmm I think you are judging by some other criteria other than scruffiness. Personally I would have to give my vote in last years competition to either #4, he’s got a mad monk kinda thing going on with that bald head and robe. Or perhaps #6 for having the deranged trapper look down pat.

  5. I love the fiddle. I wish I could magically play like Sierra. And also magically learn other languages.

    My beard vote is #4.

    • I guess if I had a personal fave it would have to be #4. He’s got the look down pat. I have a friend that I work and curl with who’s been growing a beard for over 20 years now. It’s way past his belt in the front and his hair is past his ass in the back.

      Says it’s his wife’s and she won’t let him cut it upon pain of death. So he goes around looking like Cousin It from Addams Family.

      I will have to see about taking in this years competition, I am planning on taking in a couple of night’s entertainment. Looking forward to the Caribou wine and Maple Sugar Candy. Mmmmm yummy!

  6. Great site! It’s been fun to go through and read your last few posts. And your description of the festival almost makes me want to come…almost! Living in Boston with way too much snow right is what deters me.

    • Welcome Marilyn! Thanks for all the good words, I think I can safely speak for us both to the fact that it’s been a long hard winter and we both will be happy to see it over and done with.

      Spring normally hits here around April or May, March if we are lucky. So we still have a few more months of cold. Festival normally marks a midwinter break where everyone can get out and enjoy themselves. Besides what I mentioned they also have an “Ice Bar” made from blocks of ice complete with ice glasses for your caribou wine.

      Plus we have the normal skating and skiing that takes place throughout the season. Kids climb any hill and slap some plastic on their asses and wizz down while the parents hope they don’t crack open their little skulls.

      Good times, good times indeed!

  7. #3 looks like he showed up with 5:00 shadow. That fur trade must of attracted crazies or made folks money because it sure gets and stays cold up there. I’m not sure I could even visit during the winter.

    • Well you must remember that the fur trade was in full swing over 200 years ago. I don’t think that money was a huge motivating factor to these men, rather the sense of adventure in opening up a new continent and exploring dark places on the map.

      It’s not so bad up here in the winter, as long as you dress for it. Plenty of layers and you’re fine.

  8. Great post Bob!! It looks very cool. Sounds like a lovely festival.

    How is the beard growing going? I mean, r u following the winter tradition? 🙂

    • No beard growing for me. For two reasons actually the first being it takes me FOREVER to grow anything resembling a beard. Very little body hair on this body ladies, au natural!

      Secondly those things itch like crazy, and I would be too busy scratching to get any action with Dar. Who now that I think of it would be running the other direction cause she hates scruff on her man.

      Technically I guess that’s three reasons, oh well.

    I would love to see those up close.
    Well no, actually that would be really really really cold.
    But still, they are SO COOL.