The line-ups were long to get into Festival du Voyageur if you didn’t buy advance tickets, but once inside everyone had a joyous time. Monday being Louis Riel Day and a holiday for many, and mother nature co-operating by giving us beautiful weather, people came to Voyaguer Park in droves. Louis Riel himself even showed up (in the form of a large cardboard cut-out), accompanied by Leah McDonald of 103.1FM Virgin Radio.
At 3 pm crowds gathered at the southeast corner of Fort Gibraltar to make history. Hundreds of people showed up dressed in blue and white to form a ‘human flag’. MLA Shelly Glover was on hand to participate in the event in the formation of the Metis flag. Then the flag bearers who were carrying flags marched into the fort led by the ‘pied piper’.
The cabins inside were packed with curious onlookers watching re-enactments of what life was like in the fort owned by the North-West Trading Company in the early 1800’s. Life was not easy back then. It was hard work. Voyageurs were usually contracted for three year terms. They would spend four months (with about 30 days spent trading goods) travelling from Fort William (present day Thunder Bay) to Northern Saskatchewan visiting the North-West trading posts scattered along the way, where they would trade their furs and goods.
The Festival engages about 200 people each year to dress in period costumes. People like Sarah Perrier, who has taken part in the event since 2004. When I walked into the wood-working cabin, Sarah was sewing a quilt and dishing out her homemade soup to the weary Voyageurs, like Gilles and Benoit, who came into the cabin for warmth and nourishment.
Sarah told me that she was actually playing the role of the early Lord Selkirk settlers who got kicked out of Scotland by Royalty between 1812-1815. Arriving in Churchill off of a York Boat in the winter of 1812, the first wave of 96 Scottish immigrants made their way to the Fort Gibraltar area by way of boating and portaging. A few more waves of displaced Scots followed to settle here over the years. A long, arduous journey. Sarah’s mother is writing a book about the history of the uprooted Scots.
On the other side of the room were three men busy with their wood working. Touissaint was hard at work making an axe handle. “For the most part,” he said, “wood working tools really haven’t changed much since then, they may be a bit brighter and fancier now but generally we are using the same tools we used 200 years ago.”
Meanwhile, the ‘Kitchen Party’ was rockin’ or better yet, ‘jigging’ in the cabin where most of the cooking would take place. People were very practical back then, the wood stoves would not only keep the cabins heated but would also serve as cooking stoves where a coffee / teapot was always on hand.
Outside the fort, people were keeping themselves busy with snow shoeing, sleigh rides, inner tube rides down the hill and kids and parents alike were enjoying tobogganing down the long, long slides.
The music tents were literally bursting at the seams. The heated tents were packed with people enjoying and dancing to live music by bands such as Red Moon Rising, Dylan Perron et Elixir de Gumbo, Don Amero, Indian City and The F-holes.
One of the last acts of the day was the crowd-pleasing Asham Stompers accompanied by Sagkeeng’s Finest. For years, the Stompers have been recapturing and preserving the history of the Metis people through the traditional dancing of the Red River Jig. The youngest of dancers are 6 and 7, but a younger girl from the audience was invited on the stage and led the audience in a jig.
At the end of their performance, the audience gave them a standing ovation. If you missed this amazing show you still have a chance to catch them next Saturday at noon at the Voyaguer Trading Post at 233 Provencher Boulevard. They will be hosting the Jigging contest.
The Festival continues until Sunday, February 23.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer.