Tie on a ceinture fléchée, pull on a toque and head down to Whittier Park — Festival du Voyageur is semi-virtual this year.
Voyageur Park itself will be open with outdoor activities. From touring famed Fort Gibraltar to ice sculpting workshops to horse sleigh rides and snowshoeing, there is something fun for everyone — including those who just want to snack on the delectable maple taffy.
The park should feel like pre-pandemic years with food vendors, the warm-up tent and even the implementation of the Festival’s new Boîte à chansons — a portable music stage that keeps performers warm, for health-safe musical performances throughout the day.
Admission to the park is relegated to three-hour time slots in either the morning from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or afternoon from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15.
The festival plans to adapt to any changing COVID-19 developments, which is reflected in Voyageur Park’s entrance times, with the changes to park activities predominantly occurring outside. But it’s a winter festival, so why wouldn’t you want to be outside?
However, this means tickets are electronic, in-person attendees will be required to show proof of vaccination, there will be mandatory masking — working double duty, as it will keep your face warm — and programmers ask that those attending in-person events show no symptoms of COVID-19.
The same COVID rules apply to the main concert programming, which will be hosted by the Centre culturel franco-manitobain, including the fiddling and jigging competitions. Concerts will set you back $15, but the fiddling and jigging competitions will only set you back $10 each.
For those who cannot make it down to Voyageur Park or wish to stay home, there is also Festival At Home.
Boasting a bevy of online children’s programming with plenty of free downloadable and online activities that even adults can enjoy, Festival At Home also includes take-home meal kits provided by Promenade Cafe and Wine ranging from $4 to $17 for folks at home to recreate traditional French-Canadian dishes.
There is also a pea soup competition. Four pea soup recipes can be voted on by you and one soup will reign as the festival champion.
As part of the festival’s continued efforts to advance reconciliation and Indigenous representation, not only does the virtual kids zone include an educational section that teaches the Indigenous Seven Sacred Laws, but once again, the festival has partnered with local Indigenous artist Jordan Stranger to create this year’s spectacular logo.
The Minut Michif also returns virtually, with educational videos focusing on Métis culture and traditions.
As per Winnipeg tradition, the city will soon be decked in snow sculptures, nearly 40 of which will be built by the festival, and the beard-growing contest is sure to be as heated as ever.
There will also be free outdoor activities at Coronation Park in Norwood this year, courtesy of Norwood Grove. A miniature version of Voyageur Park, there will be everything from live music and refreshments to ice skating and snowshoeing. In fact, by creatively planning the combined in-person and virtual events, the festival’s roster of activities is as diverse as ever in its 53rd year.
The free online activities are also a great study break while slogging through the unprecedently scheduled winter semester.
For a fun relaxer, the online activities in the virtual kids zone are perfect for taking some personal time over reading week to do something fun and non-coursework related. Whether it’s downloading the festival colouring book or taking the quiz to see which Manitoba mammal you are, the virtual kids zone is incidentally a lifesaver for weary university students.
Also, not physically going to Voyageur Park does not hinder you from visiting the historic site. There is a 360-degree virtual Fort Gibraltar tour available online for those who have always wished to explore the site but are too busy — or hesitant due to the pandemic — to visit.
With this seemingly never-ending Manitoba winter throwing storm after storm our way, it is best to celebrate our snowy landscape as the days grow longer. The festival is proving once again that a winter festival based on educating participants about Indigenous and Métis culture is a fantastic way to bid farewell to the cold, dark months of the season Winnipeg is famous for — sometimes it’s colder in Winnipeg than it is on Mars.
A tradition that has now survived a pandemic, the Festival du Voyageur is a local event that should not be missed.
Festival du Voyageur will run from Feb. 18 to 27. For tickets and more information, visit heho.ca.