Organizers didn't know what to expect when they asked 10 Winnipeg restaurants to submit their best pea-soup recipes for the last event of the Festival du Voyageur Sunday.

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This article was published 22/2/2009 (4628 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Organizers didn't know what to expect when they asked 10 Winnipeg restaurants to submit their best pea-soup recipes for the last event of the Festival du Voyageur Sunday.

Ninety minutes after the first-ever Rendez-vous des chefs had begun though, they had their answer.

That's all the time it took for crowds standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the Maison du Bourgeois at Fort Gibraltar to go through 2,500 bowls of pea soup.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press
Forget the pea soup ��� Sol Epp (left), Leah Noel were more interested in popcorn.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Forget the pea soup ��� Sol Epp (left), Leah Noel were more interested in popcorn.

"It's in the spirit of the voyaguer tradition," Colin Mackie, the Festival's heritage programs manager and resident historian, said when asked about pea soup.

It was the food staple that traditional voyageurs would down when they travelled the backwoods in the 19th century, he said.

"That's what they ate," shrugged Mackie. "What's better on a cold day than to get a hot cup of soup?"

Organizers of the 40th annual celebration of Franco-Manitoban culture might not have had a chance to taste any soup but they still had an unmistakably warm feeling.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press
Ultimate Voyageur contest winners Francisco Munilla (left) and Eric Toupin-Selinger test their gold medals.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Ultimate Voyageur contest winners Francisco Munilla (left) and Eric Toupin-Selinger test their gold medals.

The 10-day Festival appeared headed for an attendance record: 105,000 visitors, breaking the previous mark of 95,000 set last year.

"It's been fantastic," Josee Vaillancourt, the Festival's excutive director, said at mid-afternoon with people continuing to come to the ticket windows at Voyageur Park in St. Boniface.

Vaillancourt credited seasonable weather and the Festival's 40th anniversary as the two main reasons for the new record. Late January's cold followed by unusually warm temeperatures earlier this month left people guessing what might be next, she said.

"People wanted to get out and enjoy winter," Vaillancourt added.

As they prepared to close the Festival Sunday, officials embarked on a venture they hoped would keep record crowds coming.

Vaillancourt said the Festival would launch a marketing effort to celebrate winter, the season long held by many outsiders as the worst time to be in Winnipeg.

"We are trying to turn what people refer to as a disadvantage into a positive," Vaillancourt said.

Saison Voyageur would begin next December and last through the actual Festival du Voyageur. It would be co-sponsored by The Forks North Portage Partnership, which manages The Forks historic site, and Manitoba Homecoming 2010, a provincial organization set up to attract expatriate Manitobans and other Canadians to events marking Manitoba's 140th anniversary next year.

joe.paraskevas@freepress.mb.ca