June 30, 2015


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By Bartley Kives

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Festival time an opportunity to reflect on our heritage

A (semi-serious) Franco-Manitoban primer

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.

Festival goers dance to Indicator Indicator February 14, 2014

GREG GALLINGER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Festival goers dance to Indicator Indicator February 14, 2014 Photo Store

Isaac Girardin breathes fire as Festival goers look on.

GREG GALLINGER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Isaac Girardin breathes fire as Festival goers look on. Photo Store

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

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

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.
It was perfect weather for Festival du Voyageur's snow sculptures on Saturday.
Festival-goers warm up by the fire at Festival du Voyageur on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Festival-goers leave the park Saturday evening.
The Festival du Voyageur was a popular place to be Saturday night. The 10-day festival wraps up Sunday, Feb. 23.
The sun sets on the final Saturday of this year's Festival du Voyageur.
Young people roll maple syrup in snow to make taffy Saturday afternoon.
Crowds turned out to enjoy entertainment at Festival du Voyageur Feb. 22.
The Craig & Ash Band performs in the Sugar Shack Saturday afternoon.
Marco Alcala, 8, rolls maple syrup in snow with his mom Gaylee on Saturday afternoon.
Festival-goers warm up by the fire at Festival du Voyageur on Saturday, Feb. 22.
Slow Leaves performs in the Liquor Mart Snow Bar Saturday afternoon at Festival du Voyageur.
Winnipeggers packed in to see live music and embrace francophone culture on the second-last day of Festival du Voyageur Saturday.
Events at the Festival du Voyageur on Sunday included a historical reenactment between la Compagnie de La Verendrye and The Forces of Lord Selkirk
An actor in the historical reenactment between la Compagnie de La Verendrye and The Forces of Lord Selkirk at The Festival du Voyageur Sunday.
Actors in a historical reenactment between la Compagnie de La Verendrye and The Forces of Lord Selkirk trudge through the snow at The Festival du Voyageur Sunday.
Enthusiastic festival ambassadors attend the kick-off ceremony for the 45th Festival du Voyageur. The festival runs Feb. 14 to 23 and is to include a torchlight walk, international snow sculpture competition, music and entertainment and the creation of the world's largest living Metis Flag on Louis Riel Day.
Nancy Gouliquer, Tim Gouliquer, Toussaint Arcel, and Jeremy Kingsbury, share stories of past festivals around the fire during the opening night of Festival du Voyageur 2014 on Friday.
One of many majestic ice and snow sculptures on display at this year's Festival du Voyageur.
Barney Morin, Ron
Matt Jenkins works as a blacksmith at Fort Gibraltar during the opening night of this year's Festival du Voyageur Friday.
Andy pours hot maple syrup on fresh snow at the Sugar Shack — a Valentine's Day treat for festival-goers Friday.
One of many majestic ice and snow sculptures on display at this year's Festival du Voyageur.
Isaac Girardin breathes fire as Festival goers look on. February 14, 2014 (GREG GALLINGER / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Eight-year-old Liam Greyeyes looks closely at a handcrafted arrow at as his little brother Alex looks on at one of the Festival du Voyageur workshops Saturday.
CBC personality Rick Mercer spends the day at the Festival du Voyageur Saturday.
Historical re-enactors William Caithness, left, and Marc Charbonneau enjoy volunteering at Festival du Voyageur on Saturday.
Five-year-old Monica Claire, her mom Elizabeth Whitaker-Jacques and her niece Tianna Govia,11, goof around near one of their favourite snow sculptures at Festival du Voyageur Saturday afternoon.
Six-year-old Caleb Arnaud dances with his sister Katherine to the music of The Bart House Band in the Sugar Shack at the 45th annual Festival du Voyageur Saturday afternoon.
Five-year-old Suriya Hildebrandt picks up her maple syrup candy, freshly hardened on the snow, at the Sugar Shack during Festival du Voyageur Saturday.

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