Hé Ho! Bon festival!

February 14th, 2009 by Emma Durand-Wood
Festival Observation #1: Ice scuptures=lame. Snow sculptures=awesome.

Festival Observation #1: Ice scuptures=lame. Snow sculptures=awesome.

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.

My prize hobo ClouDonc glove!

My prize hobo ClouDonc glove!

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!


Mmmmm....Snow Taffy

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!

Mmmmm.... Fort Gibraltar lager

Mmmmm.... Fort Gibraltar lager

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!”

Everything tastes better in an ice cup.

Everything tastes better in an ice cup.

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!

3 Responses to “Hé Ho! Bon festival!”

  1. Will O'Neill says:


    I love this blog and the design is beautiful. I maintain that I would like to be able to click on the wonderful photos and have them pop up bigger and kind of zone in like an interdimensional portal effect and for the screen behind it to simmer down in luminosity so that I could enjoy them more fully. How could this be accomplished?!

  2. Will O'Neill says:

    Oh and I love Caribou and drinking from ice glasses – this festival is remarkably similar in its alcoholic mode to carnival in Quebec City, which I also cannot recommend highly enough.

  3. Brenda says:

    Ah this brings back memories. I only made it to 1 Festival and will gladly meet you there. I tested out da Peg with chilly Feb visit in totally inappropriate boots. Note to self: if you can numb toes are okay, if after numb and no feeling that is frostbite! I remember sugar shack, ice sculptures and could not talk our group into dog sledding! Ah good memories. Caribou juice sounds yummy as I have tasted port, cognac, and armagnac.

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