I am a believer. Normally, the thought of spending six hours outside on a February night in Winnipeg doesn’t sound like all that much fun. But add heated tents, live music, and caribou, sweet, sweet caribou, and you’re golden. I am no longer a Festival du Voyageur virgin!
We’d been warned that Boulevard (short for “Le Grand Rendezvous sur le Boulevard “) would be a blast, mixing and mingling with fellow ski-panted revellers and sipping from secret flasks. And it was! During Boulevard, a big stretch of Provencher is blocked off to cars, so it really is a giant street party. We arrived around 7pm, and hung out for a bit until the Asham Stompers took the stage. I’d heard about their amazing Metis dancing; this was one of my “must see” shows, so I’m glad we caught it.
I stood there with a smile plastered on my face and my toes uncontrollably tapping as dancers of all ages performed the Red River Jig while a wicked three piece band played. The crowd loved it, and was hilarious to hear all the clapping muffled by mitts and gloves. Other highlights of this performance were seeing Arnold “Ketchup loves potatoes” Asham live, and high-fiving Dancin’ Gabe!
It was almost time for the Voyageur Park gates to open, so we drove over and parked in a closer lot. We had our Festival buttons, so skipped the lineup of at least a hundred people and walked right in.
We made our way to the Sugar Shack and while one of us waited in line for beer, the rest of us got maple syrup snow taffy. I loved it, which was surprising because I actually like Safeway-brand butter flavoured pancake syrup better than the real maple syrup. Then we enjoyed our very first Fort Gibraltar lager (the official festival beer) and listened to Venus Murphy play an awesome set.
We wandered around for a bit and at the Red River Trading Post, had our very first shots of caribou (the official festival moonshine). I had heard is described as “fortified wine cut with cognac, a little like port”. I wasn’t even going to try it, it sounded so revolting. But I did, and guess what? It just tastes like room temperature sangria. Woo hoo! I’m a caribou convert!
Next up was the Snow Bar, where we had more caribou, this time in a cool ice cup. Spilled it all down the front of my green coat. Luckily, I had a long scarf that I pulled out from inside my coat and it strategically covered the huge red splatter. Oh well, I needed to get my coat dry-cleaned anyway! (And at least it matched my sash!)
We also played a fun game called Clou’Donc, which I won. I got to choose a prize and decided on a fingerless glove that can totally be reused for Hobo Reunion II. I’m told I must wear my Clou’Donc glove with pride to all future Festival events.
Much later, in the bathroom, I revealed my caribou misfortune to Laurel, and a girl standing near us looked at me and said sympathetically, “Oh… I’m totally that girl. Who spills stuff all over herself. But your scarf is doing a good job!”
Anyway, after that things get a little blurry. We had more Fort Gibraltar beer. We listened to more music. We stared in awe some more at the mammoth snow sculptures. We met more friends of friends. We had more caribou. I’m pretty sure we closed the place down. Then we used the super-convenient Red Toque Service to get home safely.
All in all, a huge success. I have to be honest: I don’t feel so hot this morning. But I’ll be fine by tonight to go back for the Johnny Cajun show. Until last night, if anyone had asked when the best time to visit Manitoba was, I’d have said summertime (obviously). But I think I might amend that now to say “Summertime, obviously. Or February for Festival!”
Props to Laurel for takin’ all the pics!