Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Festival dealing with growing pains

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The final figures aren't crunched yet but this year's Festival du Voyageur could see record-setting attendance despite the chilly weather.

"We continue to grow, and with growth comes challenges," said executive director Ginette Lavack Walters.

The Festival was plagued with unusually long lines this year, especially on Riel Day, when the weather warmed to -3 C. Winnipeggers descended on Voyageur Park but kvetched about "epic" lineups for poutine, trouble parking and difficulty getting into crowded tents to see popular musical acts. Some of the same complaints were heard Sunday as the festival wrapped up.

A growing audience is a good problem to have, said Lavack Walters, and the Festival tried this year to tackle it with more warming huts in Voyageur Park, free programing on the Red River Mutual Trail at The Forks and by doubling the size of the big tent to 300 seats. A second outdoor bar was also added, and organizers encouraged people to buy advance tickets and take the free shuttle bus to the St. Boniface site.

She said next year, the Festival would like to see the outdoor fashion show expand along with more free programming on the river trail that could ease the pressure on Voyageur Park.

Last year, there were 97,000 unique visits to the site, billed as the largest winter festival in Canada, one that celebrates Manitoba's unique francophone and Métis culture. Canadian comedian and satirist Rick Mercer was one of the celebrity guests this year. Festival also featured a beard-growing contest, ice sculptures, a pea-soup contest, wagon rides, the toboggan run and a chance to shop for crafts and souvenirs.

The fest wrapped up its 10-day run Sunday night with a brief ceremony that saw officials thank the event's 1,200 volunteers, honour the outgoing official Voyageur Family and welcome next year's -- the Sorins.

Federal Heritage Minister Shelly Glover was on hand Sunday to close the 45th fest. She asked Festival-goers to start thinking about 2017, when Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday. She said the Festival du Voyageur will be a key part of Winnipeg's celebration and asked Festival-goers to send her creative ideas to mark the occasion.

Glover touted her government's annual contribution to the Festival, worth nearly $200,000 over the next two years.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 24, 2014 B2

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