An aboriginal woman, a voyageur, a Métis and a Scottish lassie each carried a flaming torch to light the official fire in an opening ceremony Friday night at the Festival du Voyageur at Fort Gibraltar.
A crowd estimated at 500 celebrated each nation's arrival, accompanied by the strains of fiddle and bagpipe and the steady throb of a single hand drum.
One man, standing with his wife, held his hand to his heart. Lifelong Manitoban francophone Marc Jacques was overcome by emotion. His wife, Barbara Jacques, nodded: "It was very well done."
Festival executive director Ginette Lavack Walters said organizers wanted to bring a sense of the province's founding peoples through a spectacle.
The pageantry with people dressed in period costumes grew from there.
"I remember having a flash early in the spring: This is an outdoor festival and we needed to create an outdoor spectacle and there had to be a way to weave all the different cultures together," Lavack Walters said.
The 20-minute opening wrapped up with an MC introducing ambassadors from winter festivals in Minnesota and South Dakota and from Manitoba events such as Folklorama as they each passed by the fire.
The festival starts today and runs until Feb. 26, a 10-day celebration of the province's francophone, Métis and First Nations roots.
The focus of events is at Fort Gibraltar, Voyageur Park at 866 Rue Saint-Joseph, with old favourites mixing with new events, like the Louis Riel look-alike contest Monday.
Among the time-tested crowd-pleasers are the fort itself and its period-demonstration events. They're drawn from the days of the province's aboriginal beginnings, the era of the coureur du bois and the early pioneers.
The fort, the aboriginal village, outdoor sleigh rides and the popular tents with entertainment all pack in thousands every year.
Last year's festival drew about 100,000 visitors, down from 107,000 the previous year. Organizers attributed the drop to bitterly cold weather, not an issue this year with the extraordinarily mild weather.
Off the fort site, events are staged at various locations around the city.
The festival's official hotel is the Fort Garry Hotel. Half a dozen other official sites for activities are clustered around St. Boniface and elsewhere. They include L'Auberge Du Violon, at the Cathrédrale de Saint Boniface parish office at 180 Cathredral Ave., the King's Head Pub, the Club St-B, the Pionniers Trading Post, Club Regent Casino, La Broquerie Hotel and Le Garage.
The best way to find your way around -- and make the most of the festival -- is to get a program. At nearly 100 pages, the pocket-size booklet is a handy way to plan your voyageur experience.
A pass for the entire festival runs you $22 (aged 6-17, $7) and without a pass, daily admission to Voyageur Park is $13. Passes are available at Safeway, Club Regent Casino, the Centre culturel franco-manitobain and the St. Boniface festival office at 233 Provencher Blvd.
The park is open to the public Monday for Louis Riel Day. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday for school programming.
And because a story about Festival has to talk about snow, it must be mentioned that yes, there wasn't enough snow this year for the ice sculptures and sites.
Organizers trucked in man-made snow at a cost in excess of $10,000.