It might be the best testament to the province’s character, that even the coldest of winter nights can’t keep Manitobans away from a free shindig — especially when it’s one to commemorate the place they live.
On Saturday night, the province kicked off its Manitoba 150 celebrations early, with a family-friendly party at the Legislature grounds. The evening marked the start of a 150-day countdown to the province’s sesquicentennial birthday May 12th, the date the Manitoba Act was given royal assent in 1870.
Thousands turned out for the event, streaming into the Legislature for an open house that included a choir made up of MLAs and a chance to get photos with Santa Claus. Outside, folks lined up to check out a panoply of activities and installations, including snow tubing and a chance to get commemorative Manitoba 150 photos printed.
The big highlight was the reveal of Illuminate 150, a dazzling series of light installations that will shine over the legislature grounds from now to July. The installations, which feature over 300,000 LED lights, line the hedges and trees around the grounds, and include light-up sculptures of animals winding through the park.
Despite the bitter cold, hundreds stuck it out to watch the lights turn on for the first time.
"You’re all brave to be here because it’s pretty crisp here tonight," joked Paulette Duguay, Louis Riel’s great-grand-niece, who offered a blessing before the grand reveal.
As temperatures plunged below -20 C, visitors huddled around the crackling firepits that dotted the site, and jumped up and down to keep warm. Near one of the firepits, Stephanie Hemlow sat with her three young children, warming themselves by the glow. It was the kids’ first time at the legislature, she said, and the cold didn’t deter them.
"We have lots of hot chocolate, and with that and the fire, they’re doing alright," she said, with a laugh.
For those who stuck it out, there was plenty of delight. After the lights turned on, fireworks shot up from the banks of the Assiniboine River, sending startled bunnies scurrying up past the crowd. The night was crowned by a show of aerial snowmobile acrobatics just beneath the steps of the legislature’s southern entrance.
Crowds were lighter near the beginning of the event, which started at about 3 p.m. For awhile, ice sculptor Corby Pearce, who was working on a carving of a snowmobile under a tent, worried that the weather might keep people away. By 5 p.m., however, streams of visitors were wandering by to admire how he chipped away at the ice.
On that note, how was Pearce himself keeping warm, as he worked hours in the cold?
"I’m not," he said, and laughed. "Nah, it’s not that bad. I stop, I warm up, I come back. As long as I’m moving, I’m OK."