Many Cultures, Many Festivals
Canada's often called a cultural mosaic, and Manitoba is one of the country's most ethnically diverse provinces. More than 115,000 people of Aboriginal origin live here along with one of the most sizeable populations of Mennonites in the world. The French Quarter city of St. Boniface boasts the largest population of Francophone Canadians outside of Quebec, and Manitoba is an important centre of Ukrainian culture in Canada. As well, the Gimli area is home to the largest community of Icelandic people outside Iceland.
So cultural diversity is not new to this province. In fact, it goes back a long, long way here. The Assiniboine Indians, Manitoba's original inhabitants, shared the land with more nomadic, native tribes like the Cree until the late 1600s, when they welcomed the Europeans, who showed up looking for furs and the Northwest Passage.
Within 200 years, those early French and English explorers were followed by Scottish and Irish settlers, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, German-speaking Mennonites and Hutterites, Icelanders and in the 20th century, Filipinos and East Asians. Now they're all proud Manitobans with strong cultural roots they're happy to share.
In the 1870s, German-speaking Mennonites from Europe and Russia settled in southern Manitoba. By 1880, about 7,000 Mennonites were here, and during the First and Second World wars, more pacifist Mennonites and Hutterites came. Today, southern Manitoba is sprinkled with Mennonite towns and villages, and Hutterite colonies. If you see towns with names like Grünfeld (green field), Blumenort (place of flowers) and Steinbach (stony brook), you're visiting a Mennonite-based community.
Altona's annual, three-day, Manitoba Sunflower Festival attracts thousands of people every July for all the rural fair fun plus traditional Mennonite food and the festival's quilt show www.townofaltona.com.
Hutterite colonies tend to keep to themselves, not unlike the Amish. But you'll see Hutterite families selling their home-grown produce and home-made breads and pickles at farmers' markets around southern Manitoba in the summer. The Saturday St. Norbert Farmers' Market always has a few Hutterites selling goods. (But no pictures, please!)
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, huge numbers of Russians, Poles, Estonians, Scandinavians, Icelanders and Hungarians immigrated to Canada's Prairies the largest group was the Ukrainians. The Former Negrych Homestead near Gilbert Plains has the oldest known, Ukrainian, traditional residence in Manitoba (developed from 1897 to 1910) and the most complete set of original, pioneer-era farm buildings 10 of them made almost entirely of natural materials gathered on the homestead.
Former St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church near Dauphin (the oldest remaining Ukrainian Catholic church in Canada) was built in 1898 and was the site of Canada's first Ukrainian Catholic mass in 1897. A tiny log building, its interior is crammed with Byzantine-style, icon painting and decoration.
Canada's National Ukrainian Festival is held at the end of July, at the Selo Ukraina site just outside Dauphin. In May, the Veselka Ukrainian Festival in Teulon offers dance competitions, folk arts and crafts, and workshops (includes French and Polish dance ensembles).
Winnipeg's Ukrainian Labor Temple, built in 1918/1919, was the first, and remains the largest, Ukrainian Labor Temple in Canada. The neoclassical building is still the national headquarters for the Workers Benevolent Association, established here in 1922.
Manitoba's French community traces its roots to the early voyageurs who paddled Canadian Shield rivers in search of furs. Later settlers from Quebec moved further West in the 1700s, following Montreal-born explorer La Verendrye.
The Gabrielle Roy House, in St. Boniface, celebrates the internationally renowned writer who lived here from her birth in 1909 until she left St. Boniface in 1937 to teach and write. Her Governor-General's award-winning book Street of Riches is set here.
St. Boniface Cathedral was built on this site in 1818 as a small log chapel. Since then, five cathedrals have stood here, overlooking the Red River. The fourth, the best example of French Romanesque architecture in Manitoba, was ravaged by fire in 1968 and its stone facade, sacristy and walls were incorporated in the new cathedral, blessed in 1972. Louis Riel, a Metis leader once called a rebel and now considered to be one of the Fathers of Confederation, is buried here in Western Canada's oldest Catholic cemetery.
“Joie de vivre” peaks every February with the Festival du Voyageur's music, dance, food, snow sculpture competitions and sled dog racing, in what is now Western Canada's largest winter festival.
They were the first inhabitants of this land, and in recent years, have begun to be honoured as such by more recent Canadians. Whaka Pimadiziiwii Pinaysiiwigamic, Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg, is the centre for spiritual recognition and fulfilment based on the culture and values of Aboriginal people. Designed by prominent, Canadian, Aboriginal, architect Doug Cardinal, Thunderbird House runs cultural programs and welcomes visitors.
National Aboriginal Day (June 21) is celebrated every June at The Forks National Historic Site, with traditional and contemporary activities and entertainment, and at Wasagaming townsite in Riding Mountain National Park.
The Dauphin Friendship Centre's Aboriginal Festival, in early June at Dauphin's Selo Ukraina site, combines Aboriginal talent (including musicians, square dancers and powwow dancers), with crafts, food and an old-fashioned, down-home-style family social.
The need to escape from volcanic eruptions enticed some 230 Icelanders to the southwest shore of vast Lake Winnipeg, where, with a group of 1,200 more who followed, they established their own independent republic. The Independent Republic of New Iceland, known as Vatnsthing, ruled a postage-stamp-sized area from 1875 to 1887. Today, the towns of Gimli (in Norse, the name means ‘home of the gods' or ‘heavenly abode') and nearby Hecla Island still feel strong connections to Icelandic culture and history.
The H.P. Tergesen General Store, in what's now the resort town of Gimli, was built in 1898 and has been owned and operated by three generations of the family. It's the oldest operating, general store in Manitoba. Today it sells books, crafts, unique giftware and quality clothing, as well as souvenirs and beach needs).
Islendingadagurinn, the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, celebrates Gimli's roots in early August with New Iceland music and poetry, a folk festival, canoe races and cultural events.
Welcome, and Top o' the Mornin'
Among the early wave of settlers to Manitoba in the early decades of the 19th century, the Scottish added numbers to the existing contingent of British from the Hudson's Bay Company. Lower Fort Garry, built in 1836 (just south of where the town of Selkirk is today), served as a supply depot for the early Red River settlement and surrounding Aboriginal and Metis (of French and Aboriginal ancestry) population. Today, it's the oldest remaining stone fort in Canada and every summer its grounds are alive with history.
St. Andrew's-on-the-Red Anglican Church, built between 1845 and 1849, served the burgeoning Parish of retired Hudson's Bay workers and Metis residents. The stone building replicated the centuries-old, simple, British parish church.
Captain William Kennedy House, built in l866 using stones quarried from the Red River banks at nearby St. Andrews Rapids, represents the Gothic Revival style and is one of only three remaining stone residences along River Road, which follows the Red River from Winnipeg north to Selkirk.
The Manitoba Highland Gathering calls Manitoba's Scots to Selkirk Park (in Selkirk) every July for pipe band and Scottish dancing contests, sheep herding demonstrations and the "heavy games."
In Killarney, Manitoba's own, wee, Emerald Isle, Irish eyes smile at the annual Killarney Fair in June, the Beach Festival and Prairie Pioneer Days in July, and the Little Irish Downs summer harness racing at the end of July.
… And Too Many More to Even Begin to List
While Canada's Census lists 29 distinct, ethnic origins in Manitoba boasting considerable numbers there are actually many, many more. Winnipeg's annual Folklorama, celebrated in the first two weeks of August, recognizes them all. Close to 450,000 people visit some 50 different ethnic pavilions from Australia to the Philippines to Warsaw-Poland, scattered through the city in gymnasiums, community halls and arenas.
A sweet little footnote: Lukkenfest, the town of Deloraine's annual July cookie festival, salutes its town's Belgian heritage with the world's largest cookie jar and sweet treats for all-- Belgian pastry, of course.
Top Cultural Festivals
Folklorama every August
Festival du Voyageur every February
Islendingadagurinn - Icelandic Festival every August long weekend
Trappers Festival every February
Canada's National Ukrainian Festival every August long weekend
Opaskwayak Indian Days every August
For more information:
www.travelmanitoba.com for numerous other cultural fests around the province
www.folklorama.ca - Folk Arts Council of Manitoba
www.cnuf.ca - The Ukrainian National Festival
www.festivalvoyageur.mb.ca - Festival du Voyageur
www.thunderbirdhouse.com - Thunderbird House
www.theforks.com - The Forks National Historic Site
www.icelandicfestival.com/ - The Icelandic Festival