As a lifelong Winnipegger, Festival du Voyageur has been a stomping ground since elementary school. It brings back memories of frigid Winnipeg winters filled with sleigh rides, pancakes and, of course, donning the ceinture fléchée sash.
Despite having been to the festival too many times to count, this year’s iteration was as grand as ever.
The convenience of parking close to the ticket gates, in the barely full parking lot when the park first opened, was well worth the $10 fee. Though, if it had been full, the free shuttle was the alternative option, picking up festivalgoers from various designated locations near the park.
The first things that greet you at the festival are food trucks. You can take your pick of mini doughnuts, BeaverTails or even stop for an early poutine. Though, poutine kiosks are littered across the park to indulge in the cheesy gravy-drenched goodness throughout the day.
A hot beverage can be purchased from the Café Postal kiosk, conveniently located inside the gargantuan Bell MTS Rivière-Rouge tent. You can indulge in a perfectly brewed cup of hot chocolate that will make your knees weak. Luckily, the Rivière-Rouge tent is equipped with bleacher seating so you can enjoy your cup of perfection in absolute bliss.
While you’re enjoying the comforts of the warm tent, you can catch one of the many live musical acts there too. On Louis Riel Day, husband-and-wife duo Burnstick serenaded the early afternoon festivalgoers in the packed tent.
The Indigenous Makers Market — which was only taking place inside the Rivière-Rouge tent on Louis Riel Day — showcased an array of talented beadworkers, leatherworkers, soapstone carvers and antler art makers. Local Indigenous artists — including Borealis Beading, Shoni Cree’s, Michael ManyEagles and Bronwyn Butterfield — had tables set up at the market with some of their most beautiful pieces for sale.
Walking over to the Manitoba 150 Forest tent, you can catch the amazing performances of the introductory powwow presentation. Demonstrating everything from jingle dress and fancy shawl dancing traditions to the warrior dance, young Indigenous performers showcased their exquisite traditional dances in full regalia to the dazzled crowd. And the singing and drumming were just as spectacular as the dancing.
Working up an appetite bobbing and swaying to powwow drumming, there is one food kiosk that may be even better than the copious amounts of poutine. Kiosque Boréal is located in the Rivière-Rouge tent and offers an epically delicious dish of bison tourtière with mashed potatoes and parsnip, drizzled with gravy — c’est parfait. The tourtière was sold out between the time of purchase and the time of consumption this last Monday — before a second helping could be had.
After a hearty lunch, something sweet was needed to tackle the outdoor events. A classic lemon sugar crepe from Crêperie Ker Breizh — also located in the Rivière-Rouge tent — did the trick.
Once refuelled, checking out the snow sculptures and Jaime Black’s exhibit outdoors was next on the festival to-do list. The snow sculptures are spectacular as always and a bevy of them is located outside of the Forest tent. Jaime Black’s exhibit titled “We Stand Together,” located between the Rivière-Rouge tent and Fort Gibraltar, is made of four snow and coloured ice facades facing the four directions, “calling on the ancestors to remind us where we come from and to show us the way forward.” It’s peaceful to stand inside the exhibit and reflect for several moments in silence.
After taking time to reflect, Fort Gibraltar was the perfect next stop. Filled to the brim with reenactors, the fort offered educational interpreters to explain the purpose of each building, as well as demonstrations of how life went about in the fort. From smithies to ateliers, the fort is always a wonderful place to reacquaint yourself with the history of our province, and ascending to the top of the wall offers a spectacular view of our cityscape.
Following a jaunt around the fort, watching the chainsaw sculptures come to life is a sight to see. The sculptors are fantastically talented, true artists that can make the most vivid sculptures with as unconventional an instrument as a chainsaw. Their pieces are for sale at the park and you can watch them create while at the wood carving area.
Walking around the park, you can view the horse sleigh rides and snowshoers, as well as spot Léo La Tuque — the festival’s mascot — to say “Allô” to.
At the end of the afternoon, a peruse through the souvenir tent was imperative — supporting local artists with the purchase of festival memorabilia.
Getting home, the remnants of bonfire stay on your clothes from the lovely warming stations scattered throughout the park where you can sit for a moment and warm up near live flames.
A great day at Festival du Voyageur doesn’t have to be a liquor-fuelled fest while rocking to your favourite band. Though the night festivities are fun, a day at the festival can be even more of a treat.
Festival du Voyageur runs until Feb. 23.