Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bigger not better for many at Festival

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Festival du Voyageur is struggling with capacity issues after larger-than-expected crowds materialized during its opening weekend.

The annual winter festival, which opened on Friday, has experienced long lineups at the entrance to its main site at Voyageur Park, long waits to get inside the heated tents within the park and overcrowded vehicle shuttles.

While festival organizers have yet to tabulate attendance figures, they say it appears the number of daily visitors has met or exceeded a record set in 2012, when as many as 10,000 people passed through the Voyageur Park gate on weekend days.

"It's been a perfect storm this year. We've been cooped up for months, so even -20 felt nice," said festival executive director Ginette Lavack Walters, referring to the temperature on Friday evening, when approximately 3,000 people packed into the main site. "It is a good problem to have, but it is a challenge we have to deal with."

Lavack Walters said the festival added more outdoor seating and a second outdoor bar this year, but still had to direct festival-goers to the trading-post venues located elsewhere in St. Boniface.

"There needs to be better education about them, but it's easy for that too get lost in the noise when there is so much going on at Voyageur Park," she said. "We're trying to increase the (number of) venues and programming, so even if you get into Voyageur Park and can't get into a tent, you have other things to look at."

Lavack Walters said festival-goers are still reporting positive experiences. But some patrons took to social media over the weekend to complain about the lines -- while others used traditional means to voice their displeasure.

"My wife I had a terrible time and bitter experience with the Festival du Voyager this year and paid $40 to wait in lines, see nothing, do nothing and have a soggy $5 beaver tail," patron Mike Pushka wrote in a letter to the Free Press. "It was definitely a waste of time and money."

Lavack Walters said the festival will consider how to adapt to larger crowds. Capping the attendance at Voyageur Park is not possible, given that the festival sells 10-day passes offering unlimited admission.

"That's a longer discussion we have to have," she said.

The festival, billed as the largest winter festival in Western Canada, continues until Feb. 23.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2014 D2

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