by Jackie Doming
As a little girl, I always looked forward to one major event in February: le Festival du Voyageur.
It almost felt like the clock was wound back a few centuries when my small inner city French immersion school was filled with merriment of the fur trade era. Teachers walked around in traditional voyageur garb, students tightened bright red ceintures fléchées around their waists, and the music class was filled with sounds of clapping wooden spoons.
Visiting Fort Gibraltar was an annual routine. In my eyes, it only got better every year – the ice sculptures were grander, the stories were more vibrant, and the atmosphere brimmed with friendly Franco-Manitoban warmth.
In my adolescence and early adulthood, I naively tossed the Festival to the wayside. The idea of visiting what some would consider an elementary playground wasn’t at the top of a teenager’s mind. Stories around the warm fires were soon forgotten, and the flavour of sweet maple syrup was nothing more than a lingering figment of my taste buds’ imagination.
It wasn’t until this past February I returned to the Festival du Voyageur, over ten years later.
Visiting Fort Gibraltar is a completely different experience as an adult. It was still breathtaking – but for very different reasons. People were tightly packed in the Snow Bar, pounding down shots of caribou. Tents were filled with drunken song and dance. The sound of local Francophone artists echoed across the former fur trading grounds.
Although this year’s visit to the Festival du Voyageur wasn’t quite like how I remembered, it’s still a celebration near and dear to my heart. The beauty of the Festival is there is never a shortage of things to see and do – plenty more so when you’re old enough to experience the other half of it.
So let’s raise our glasses (or shots of caribou) and toast to the beauty of Manitoba’s rich history, and to the hardships suffered by the voyageurs from centuries ago. Their bravery helped shape the amazing culture we embrace and celebrate today.
J’adore le Festival du Voyageur. J’adore Winnipeg. Hé Ho!
Photos by Jackire Doming