Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Festival time an opportunity to reflect on our heritage

A (semi-serious) Franco-Manitoban primer

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If it's mid-February, it's time for Festival du Voyageur, a prime opportunity for Winnipeggers to wander aimlessly about Whittier Park, stare in awe at snow sculptures and make half-hearted attempts at acknowledging the city's history.

As every schoolkid knows, the voyageurs helped open up Western Canada by collecting beaver skins and shipping them over to Europe, where upscale women wandered around wearing rodents on their heads for a few centuries.

But this city was not just built in the service of questionable fashion. To help understand Festival du Voyageur, here's a primer on great moments in Franco-Manitoban history:

 

1738

Quebec explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérendrye, paddles up the Red River to what's now Winnipeg. Somewhere on the south side of the Assiniboine River, his men establish Fort Rouge.

About nine months later, the first Métis show up at The Forks. There really wasn't much else to do that winter.

 

1809

The French-Canadian and Métis voyageurs of the Montreal-based North West Company establish Fort Gibraltar near what's now The Forks National Historic Site. This drives the Hudson's Bay Company crazy, as the francophones dress way better.

This sets a precedent that persists all the way to a time when the Bay would own Zellers, purveyors of some of the least fashionable clothes ever sold in Winnipeg.

 

1812-21

The Hudson's Bay Company builds Fort Douglas within stumbling distance of Fort Gibraltar, giving the HBC men and voyageurs an opportunity to really get to know and hate each other. This situation is complicated by the arrival of Red River colonists from Scotland.

A series of conflicts between the French and English escalates until 1816, when the voyageurs burn down Fort Douglas and the colonists burn down Fort Gibraltar.

Eventually, the HBC and North West Company are forced to merge, ending a proud Red River Colony tradition of setting your enemy's house on fire and watching the smouldering remains crumble to the ground.

 

1869-70

After increasing numbers of English-speaking Protestants pour into the Red River Valley from Ontario, the Métis decide they've had enough.

Under the leadership of Louis Riel, the Métis seize control of Upper Fort Garry, establish a provisional government and convince Ottawa Manitoba belongs in Canada.

Riel then flees an approaching army, hides out in the U.S., gets elected to Parliament and leads another rebellion in Saskatchewan, not necessarily in that order. He then gets hanged in Regina because he refuses to plead insanity.

Every September, we commemorate the killing of our provincial founder by our evil neighbours in Saskatchewan by defeating the Roughriders at the Banjo Bowl, no matter how terrible the Blue Bombers happen to be that season.

 

1890-94

As more and more Anglos arrive in Manitoba, the provincial government decides it's time to stop simply annoying their own Métis and also drive francophones in Quebec into a frenzy. The province passes new legislation that removes funding for Protestant and Catholic schools, which goes against the spirit of equal rights for French and English in Manitoba.

This move unwittingly sends the entire country into a political tizzy that eventually topples the Conservative government and plants the seeds of modern Quebec nationalism.

Today, these events are known as the Manitoba Schools Question, at least to the handful of Manitobans who paid attention in school when this question received 10 minutes of attention.

 

1970

With Manitoba poised to turn 100, the province creates Festival du Voyageur to celebrate Winnipeg's history as the centre of the fur trade, francophone culture and violent recriminations between people who speak different languages.

No violence actually takes place at the festival, although beard-growing is permitted. Today, we commemorate these events by thinking violent thoughts about heavily bearded hipsters.

 

2014

Now 44, Festival du Voyageur is middle-aged but enjoying a rather hedonistic mid-life crisis.

There are many tents at Festival where patrons can purchase alcohol. There's an outdoor snow bar on the festival grounds and a new tent planned for the ice on the Red River.

The old divisions between French and English have receded, as Winnipeggers are united in a single cause -- consuming enough booze to forget it's still February.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg's Festival du Voyageur was a popular place to be Saturday afternoon, as the 10-day celebration of Manitoba's French culture gets ready to wrap up Sunday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 A1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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