It was a mystifying sight to behold: a quiet hush falling over a crowd of more than 5,000 onlookers, all nestled neatly around the Assiniboine River staring at a floating stage.
But, such was the case at the third annual Barge Festival, as WSO music director Alexander Mickelthwate was paddled aboard a replica York boat to a floating barge where his symphony awaited, instruments in hand.
Not to be outdone, Mickelthwate was quickly followed by two other replica boats, carrying the Riel Gentlemen's Choir made up of 25 brawny men.
The strapping lads quickly sprang to musical action, belting out a powerful Celtic tune that seemed to vibrate the ground.
The nautical spectacle was the kick-off to the free, weekend-long festival that this year honours the bicentennial of the Selkirk settlers' arrival from Scotland.
This year, The Forks North Portage Partnership and Manitoba Lotteries joined forces with the Committee for the Bicentenary of the Red River Settlement 2012 to commemorate the Scottish-Canadian group's 200th anniversary.
In the spirit of all things Celtic, this weekend's Barge Festival will host a score of events, including Errol Ranville and the Star Attraction Talent Showcase Finalists, Les Francossins, Celtica, áa Claque! and the Arrival of The Selkirk Settlers annual parade. The event will conclude on Sunday with a fireworks display.
"Oh, it was stunning, simply stunning when they rowed out in those boats," said Bonnie McFeetors while perched in a lawn chair near the Beachcomber Restaurant's patio. "There are so many people here that we can't really see everything, but the sound is just incredible. It really is enchanting."
The moment was also an exciting one for Peter Isaak, one of the Riel Gentlemen's Choir tenors charged with the difficult task of serenading the crowd while paddling the boat.
"We only had one rehearsal beforehand with six people, so that was a little nerve-wracking. But once we got on the water and we were coming towards the crowd, it was a pretty incredible sight to see everyone staring at you," Isaak said.
The festival originally floated out of an initiative by the Winnipeg Arts Council in 2010 when Winnipeg was designated the Cultural Capital of Canada. The Barge Festival received a portion of the $2 million in federal funding from the designation and hosted the WSO and homegrown fiddler Sierra Noble at its first-ever Barge Festival gala event.
The event was so popular, The Forks quickly adopted it as one of its signature events and has since hosted the floating entertainment as a yearly festival.
Friday night's aquatic entrances were just the beginning of the festival's kick-off, as Scottish-Canadian tenor John McDermott soon took the floating stage alongside the tuxedo-clad WSO for a three-song set.