The 51st annual Festival du Voyageur begins Feb. 14 and runs until Feb. 23. With lots to see, listen and taste this year, the arts and culture staff are offering you our festival recommendations.
From musicians to hear and re-enactments to see, to previewing this year’s celebration of Indigenous cultures, these are our best picks for a great time during our chilly Winnipeg winter.
Kaelen Bell, reporter
It’s difficult to recommend any one specific band or artist at Festival du Voyageur — it’s the kaleidoscopic whole that makes it what it is, the wide variety of echoes that create a dense tapestry of sound and culture. However, there is a myriad of particularly exciting artists playing this year’s festival, and we’ve got a brief rundown of some of 2020’s can’t-miss shows — though really you can’t go wrong.
Micah Visser’s solo project Boniface has been making waves globally in recent years, expanding Visser’s neon-hued sound beyond the borders of Manitoba. Boniface’s self-titled debut record makes good on the promise of an electrifying live show, and the performance at the festival can promise glitter and teary-eyed dancing in equal measure.
If the glitter and dancing seems enticing, sans tears, the feel-good electronic throb of Rich Aucoin is probably the ticket. Aucoin’s death-obsessed dance parties are one-of-a-kind, dressing dark themes in unrelenting, psychedelic colour.
On Saturday night, 3Peat’s show will bring the expected energy — their stylish production and interlocking flows cast a hypnotic spell.
For those looking for a slightly quieter escape, the beautifully soft sound of Veneer will be the show to catch — a stellar local example of the enduring power of guitar, drums and bass. The same can be said for Liam Duncan’s gentle folk rock and Pierre Guitard’s French new wave guitar pop, a wash of warm air to temper the outside chill.
It seems too obvious to recommend catching a Royal Canoe set — the band has been a Winnipeg stalwart for years. But if the recent ice show at the Forks is any indication, the band’s only become better with time. There’s a particularly Winnipeg sensation to hearing Royal Canoe’s eerie undulations out in the snow, and it would be a mistake to miss them this time around.
And if groove is what you’re after, JayWood’s new-found funk is a good way to warm yourself up, showcasing music that is a satisfying blend of deep rhythm and jangling indie-pop.
Ultimately, there are no poor choices for an evening at the festival, and the best advice is to catch as much music as possible in as many genres and moods as you can muster.
Grace Paizen, editor
This year, Festival du Voyageur is making an effort to highlight Indigenous cultures by adding several Indigenous-focused events to this year’s roster. In fact, the logo of this year’s festival was designed by Oji-Cree artist Jordan Stranger. With so many events to choose from, here are my picks.
In collaboration with the Manito Ahbee Festival, Festival du Voyageur is hosting four separate introductory powwow presentations. As an interactive event, you can look forward to being introduced to different regalia, dance styles and drum songs. You even get the chance to participate in the friendship round dance.
On Feb. 20, you will get a chance to meet Manitoban author Beatrice Mosionier. Undoubtedly more well-known amongst the high school community for the high school version of her book In Search of April Raintree, festival-goers will get the chance to hear Mosionier read from two of her works as well as recount stories from her life. Any book lover would jump at this opportunity to meet the author and get to know her even more.
This Louis Riel Day, festival-goers are in for a treat. There is a one-day only Indigenous Makers Market featuring local bead workers and Indigenous artists.
Don’t miss out on a great way to support local artists and witness their impeccable talent.
On the topic of remarkable talent, Jaime Black, founder of the REDress Project — a project that utilizes aesthetic protest art to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women — is creating an art installation as well as a performance art piece for the festival. A sure-to-be-moving art piece and an emotional performance, this is an event not to miss.
For my final pick, I recommend a classic Festival du Voyageur sight — snow sculptures. The snow sculptures at the festival and around the city are always marvels of our snowy world. Don’t miss a chance to see snow molded in all its glory into beautiful pieces of art that can stir the hearts of even the least nostalgic.
Zachary Sigurdson, reporter
If it’s cold — which it will be — I always recommend going to Fort Gibraltar.
Regardless of the weather, the fort remains one of the best places to be at the festival. From learning about the conflicts between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company trade empires to learning from blacksmiths, carpenters and other traditional craftsmen at the festival, there is lots to discover and explore.
Fort Gibraltar’s long history from 1809 to present is full of battles, raids, destruction and restorations. It’s a reminder of the often violent competition between various trading companies for many of the same resources. Interpretation hours at the fort, where you can learn more about the fort’s history, run throughout the festival, and — as a bonus — the view from the fort is absolutely spectacular.
You can also warm yourself up at the fort’s outdoor bar and by the bonfires while you enjoy the music, the stories and the fire juggler. Each night at the Hivernants’ Cabin is a kitchen party with music, dancing and songs.
For something a bit more action-oriented, there is the Red River Skirmish on both Feb. 16 and 23. La Compagnie de La Vérendrye and the Forces of Lord Selkirk will be performing military drills with muskets, demonstrating how battles were fought. Get there early to get a good view.
And for a more hands-on experience, Voyageur Apprentice Workshops run at select times for the duration of the festival. Now is your chance to learn traditional hands-on crafting from experienced artists and craftspeople. Learn Métis beading, tinsmithing, carving, woodworking, paper marbling and more. This — more than any other event — is how knowledge and skills are passed down to future generations.
The reality of living in a historic period can often be lost on us until we get our hands dirty and experience it ourselves.
So, if you have the time this year, go check out Fort Gibraltar and the many brilliant and talented historic interpreters working hard in the bitter cold.