If you listen closely to the wind in the third week of February you can hear it whisper the Voyageur song (oui, oui, oui!). And if you follow the call into the Winnipeg neighbourhood of St. Boniface, you’ll find Western Canada’s largest winter festival.
Festival du Voyageur has been celebrating Franco-Manitoban culture and history and embracing Winnipeg winters for 50 years.
Smell the outdoor bonfires, listen to the clack of the Red River Jig danced on a wooden stage, taste the sweetness of la tire and marvel at the detailed ice sculptures created by artists from around the world. These iconic parts of the festival continue to draw crowds, but if you think you’ve done it all at Festival du Voyageur, think again.
This year, Manitoba’s largest winter festival is introducing never-before-seen programming and new experiences that showcase Indigenous culture through music, food and art, making more room for festival goers in the biggest tent the festival has ever seen, and offering unique, locally-made Festival du Voyageur brews.
Here are seven new reasons you need to go to Festival du Voyageur in 2020, even if you’ve been going for 50 years.
1. Incredible Indigenous music
Music is always a big draw for crowds at Festival du Voyageur, the tents fill up quickly with festi-goers wanting to hear popular bands or discover their next favourite. This year the festival has created a five-hour Indigenous Music Showcase to highlight the talent and voices of local Indigenous performers. The six performers and groups hail from Winnipeg, Brandon, Oxford House, Pimicikamak Cree Nation and Ebb and Flow First Nation. They will share original music in genres from hip hop to blues to contemporary hand drum. Find your new jam at this musically diverse showcase.
2. Powerful performance art
Jaime Black is often recognized for her work on The REDress Project. But this year at Festival du Voyageur the Métis artist is focusing her talents into an ice sculpture that reflects the medicine wheel and the importance of community. The sculpture celebrates Indigenous voices and will be accompanied by a performance art piece by Jaime Black on Monday, February 17.
3. Largest tent ever
If you’ve ever eagerly waited in line to get into a tent at Festival du Voyageur you’ll be extra excited by this one. The Bell MTS Red River Tent will be the largest venue in the history of the festival, with a capacity of 1,000 people. With nearly double the space in the main tent, there’ll be more room for dancing and space for everyone to enjoy the most popular bands at this year’s festival including Manitoba bands Attica Riots, Royal Canoe, 3PEAT and Boniface, and Québec pop star Charlotte Cardin.
4. Pre-colonial cuisine pop-up
One of the new foodie highlights at Festival du Voyageur this year is ISHKODE, an Indigenous cuisine pop-up offering several pre-confederation dinners themed around The Métis Nation – A Journey in Time. Chefs Melissa "Urban Brownee" Brown, Glenna Henderson, Steve Watson and Rachel Sansregret will be showcasing modern Indigenous cuisine while incorporating traditional plants, medicines and wild game. Dinners will take place at La maison des artistes, a short walk from Voyageur Park.
5. Importance of Pow Wow
The Pow Wow 101 presentation isn’t new this year: it was hosted once last year at Festival du Voyageur. But the interactive program was SO popular they’ve brought it back fourfold with presentations throughout the week. Take this opportunity to learn about the meaning of Pow Wow, the significance of drum songs, dance styles and regalia and participate in a community round dance at the end of each presentation.
6. Hand-made creations
The mix of traditional Métis and Indigenous art techniques with contemporary styles means you’re sure to find something meaningful and beautiful at Festival du Voyageur’s Indigenous Makers Market. Beaded earrings, soapstone carvings and antler jewelry are just a few of the pieces that will catch your eye. The artist behind Borealis Beading has even created a beaded version of the iconic red voyageur toque so you can add a piece of art to your voyageur outfit. Take time to interact and learn about the artists’ processes at the first-of-its-kind event at the festival.
7. Specialty Festi’ brews
This year Festival du Voyageur is partnering with two Manitoba breweries, Fort Garry Brewing and Farmery Estate Brewery. The combination of these two powerhouse Manitoba breweries means more beer selection at the festival as well as specialty brews on liquor mart shelves before the festival even begins. Get in the Festi’ spirit with their unique creations.