Voyageur ambassadors in trade blankets over coats tied with bright Metis sashes moved among mammoth white snow sculptures today as dozens of organizers welcomed Manitoba’s premier and Winnipeg’s mayor to the kick off for the 44th annual Festival du Voyageur at Fort Gibraltar in St. Boniface.
"It’s the greatest celebration of our history," said Premier Greg Selinger of the winter event. He was clad in a coat stitched from a blue trade blanket armoured with a chest full of festival buttons.
Listing the Metis and aboriginal peoples along side the French and English settlers as the foundation of the province he urged visitors to enjoy the 10 days of fiddle music, sleigh rides and dozens of other activities.
The event officially opens to the public Friday evening with a traditional torch-light parade that winds its way through St. Boniface to the site of the French fort, once the headquarters of the Northwest fur trade. It wraps up Sunday, Feb. 24.
The theme this year is "Find your Place in History."
Admission is $15 a day for adults, $10 for youth, $8 for children and kids under five are admitted free. A voyageur pass, good for free or discounted admission to Voyageur Park and other official sites during the full 10 days is $25 for adults, $15 for youth and $10 for children, kids under five are still free.
The 44th annual festival finds its roots in the courier du bois runners that ran fur trade routes from Winnipeg to Montreal two centuries ago, but these days the event breaks the back of winter in a city where temperatures plunge to -30 C in the darkest months of the year.
Winnipeg’s mayor joked that he’d already learned one valuable lesson just by showing up at the same time as the premier: "The next time I have to negotiate with the premier, I will do it at the Festival du Voyageur. He’s in a great mood," Mayor Sam Katz said.
"I’ll still say ‘No’," Selinger quipped back. Katz went on to praise the dedication of volunteers who turn out to generate the 10 day party of francophone and Metis culture, its history and music.
The kick off wrapped up with a honour for the Festival’s executive director, Ginette Lavack Walters, who accepted a Diamond Jubilee medal from the premier for her public service.