Hundreds of candles and torchlights, fireworks lighting up the night sky and the warmth of Manitoba's French-Canadian and Métis community will officially open the 45th Festival du Voyageur today at Voyageur Park.
The Torch Light Walk, starting at 6 p.m. at the Rendez-vous on Ice at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rrivers, will end at Voyageur Park in St. Boniface, where the opening ceremonies will begin at 7:30 p.m.
The show of lights will turn the spotlight for the next 10 days on the 2014 festival, which offers a dazzling array of activities, cultural experiences, music, parties and outdoor patios.
"This is where I really go to know my culture. This is where I go to know the Métis side of my culture, and this is where I was able to live and breathe the Franco-Manitoban culture," festival president Geneviève Clément told a news conference Thursday. She has been attending the festival since she was a child and became a board member in 2006.
"I'm so excited that it's been such a cold winter and we are opening our doors and inviting people in to come and have a good time," Clément said. "We really invite people in. We're all about la joie du vivre, which means we're happy to be alive -- singing, dancing, eating good food. Once people feel that warmth, they just want to be a part of it."
Numerous family activities will be held on Louis Riel Day Monday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Fort Gibraltar. There will be free admission at the Saint-Boniface Museum 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., where the Bell of Batoche will be presented.
At the Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre, the Voyageur Trading Post will host community lunches and seven evenings of live entertainment featuring Manitoba fiddlers Sierra Noble (today) and Alex Lamoureux (Feb. 23), Cajun Night (Feb. 20), the Beard-growing Contest (Feb. 21) and the announcement of the 2014-2015 official Voyageur Family (Feb. 23).
At Fort Gibraltar, the famous kitchen party will be held on eight nights and the Red River skirmish (Feb. 16 and 23 at 1:30 p.m.) will feature a display of historic flintlock muskets firing and a battle demonstration between La Compagnie de La Vérendrye and the Lord Selkirk forces.
Lovers of fiddle music will want to check out L'Auberge du violon at the Saint-Boniface Cathedral Parish on Saturday to Feb. 22. There's the classic Voyageur Games at Club St-B on Feb. 17-20, with the final on Feb. 22, where contestants will battle in leg-wrestling and log-sawing among other activities.
The International Snow-sculpting Symposium has 11 teams of sculptors from 10 countries and their creations displayed around the park. Other attractions include the Aboriginal Winter Trading Camp, pancake breakfasts, a snowshoe trail, sleigh rides, a new kids' playground, and for grown-ups, the Snow Bar.
"There's so many different cultures that are reflected here, and we invite absolutely everybody," Clément said. "We've got bands from every walk of life that are coming to entertain us, so we just really want the biggest kitchen party in Manitoba, in Canada."
In keeping with this year's slogan, Woven In Time, former official voyageur families have been invited back, so the park will be teeming with people in traditional voyageur costumes.
Visitors are advised to avoid lineups at the gate by purchasing a day pass or Voyageur pass at www.heho.ca, Safeway Stores, Club Regent Casino and the festival office at 233 Provencher Blvd. For more information, go to www.heho.ca or download the new app for iPhone or Android.