Despite living in Winnipeg for nearly a decade, I had never attended Festival du Voyageur before this year, even with the high acclaim it has received from all my friends who were born and raised here.
However, this year I made the journey to St. Boniface and into Whittier Park for Winnipeg’s famous francophone festival celebrating Métis culture and what I found was more than I could ever anticipate.
Festival du Voyageur welcomes over 90,000 people annually, and even though I attended on a Thursday rather than during a bustling weekend there were plenty of attendees filling up the park.
The first things that caught my eye as an attendee — other than the smell of smoke and the beautiful echoes of fiddling from various tents — were the snow sculptures.
Festival’s International Snow Sculpture Symposium was an incredible sight to pass by exiting the Tente Forest, with many large works from several artists. The snow sculptures were direc- tly across from Fort Gibraltar, a time capsule of the voyageur era with staff in historical dress.
Inside the fort you could find several cabins with different educational topics such as l’atelier, which focused on how carving and canoe making was done at the time.
Attendees could also climb a staircase leading up to the fort’s rampart, which provided a view of the entire area.
One of my favorite parts about Fort Gibraltar, however, was the restaurant Brasserie du Bourgeois. Safe from the cold, the restaurant was alive with fiddling, giant-sized Jenga and a diverse, mouth-watering menu ranging from Rubaboo stew to traditional tourtière.
I personally ordered bannock with whipped butter and a very large coffee to prepare myself for the return to the cold — though Festival’s several firepits and warming areas made it a less insidious enemy.
One of these fire pits was the Infinity Fire, found in the heart of the park in the shape of the infinity symbol to represent the eternal resiliency of the Métis in Manitoba.
Not far from the Infinity Fire was a teepee featuring Winter Stories with Elders Barbara Nepinak and Winston Wuttunee. Inside you could sit down, get warm and hear stories in both Cree and Anishinaabemowin from two fantastic storytellers.
Once you’d had your fill of winter stories, you could make your way to any tent and there was a good chance you’d find live music. Love Letter Writers and Cht’koot & Sam Kigutaq were both playing the night that I went, giving wonderful performances that contributed to the overall atmosphere of the tents.
As the moon got higher, I decided to end my trip at the souvenir tent to commemorate my first-time attendance. Inside were beautiful trinkets and merchandise from various vendors, but I settled on a small voyageur headband sash and a Festival du Voyageur button from La Boutique du Voyageur.
Just like that, my journey was over, and I left the park with the strong scent of smoke in my hair and a sense of community that I hadn’t had prior. It was incredible to witness such a large display of not only francophone culture but of Indigenous art, traditions, culture and languages as well.
Festival du Voyageur is a mosaic of francophone, Métis and Indigenous culture beautifully woven into one event and is something that everyone should go to at least once. Keep it in your mind for its next run in 2024.