It was Festival du Voyageur and the gates were closed to the general public. Over 12,000 kids from K to 12 took over Voyageur Park to bask in the “joie du vivre” of French Canadian culture with singing, dancing and playing games.
On February 14th, and again from the 18th to 21st, the Festival du Voyageur Great-West Life School Program gave students an opportunity to explore Manitoba’s fur trading history.
For many children, this was a day off from sitting in the classroom. As they eagerly set out on their adventure that took them back in time, students encountered interpreters in period costumes who played their roles in the history of Fort Gibraltar. This allowed students to discover a day in the life of a voyageur in the 1800’s, connecting today’s youth to the past, while making it fun for them to learn.
In hopes of teaching students to think of their past, present and future through a vast array of historical, recreational and educational activities, kids learned the dramatic life of danger, suspense, and camaraderie that accompanied those living in the fur trading era. Indeed, there were plenty of challenges to be met as a result of the considerable strife between The Hudson’s Bay Company and The North-West Company.
Fort Gibraltar originally located at the forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, was, and continues to be a meeting place today in what we now call “The Forks”. It is here at Fort Gibraltar, where students traveled back in time visiting various cabins, such as the Warehouse, the Winterer’s cabin, the North Tower, La Maison du Bourgeois, the Trading Post, the Workshop and the Blacksmith’s cabin. Dressed in period costume, each voyageur stayed in their character from that era in the early 1800’s, teaching various survival techniques.
In this out of classroom setting, several students reported that it was more fun to learn about the voyageurs this way than by sitting at a desk reading about it. They discovered that living near water was an integral part of survival. Rivers were highways transporting furs and other goods. Voyageurs lived near these waterways because they used the water for bathing, drinking, washing clothes, fishing and much more.
Teachers completed applications in advance for their students to participate in various events while at the Festival. Each registered student received a pass for the duration of the Festival.
There were pre-registered workshops, concerts, presentations, music and other performers including Isaac Girardin, a professional juggler and fire performer. Students gazed in wonder at the snow sculptures, ate maple syrup on a stick and beaver tails, danced, and went on horse-drawn sleigh rides. They fiddled around, sang music and bought souvenirs. They even had their faces painted.
For many of the young kids, it was a thrill to learn the folklore, the trades, the snowshoeing, and the making of sashes. They soon realized how much of a trial and tribulation it would have been to blaze the trail from Montreal to Winnipeg and the challenges behind creating Fort Gibraltar. Making a trail and hunting for food; now that’s true perseverance.
After a good game of lacrosse, as well as participating in events at the winter playground, sitting by the warm fire on hay bales eating pea soup, sounded like a good idea.
Katie Durand, now a volunteer, fondly remembered the days of going to Festival and navigating the ice maze, (which is no longer part of the event). She said, she loved the snow sculptures and her favourite was the metal worksmith who would make leaves out of metal.
This year, as part of a partnership with the Festival du Voyageur, loads of kids from schools in rural Manitoba and out-of-province brought their camping gear so as to camp out at the Manitoba Museum.
Buses of students from across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario were packed full of sleeping bags with kids ready to spend the night at The Manitoba Museum, for a MuZZeum Sleepover. One of the bus drivers said that the kids were all hyped about missing school and taking part in the Festival and in the sleepover.
The night at the MuZZeum Sleepovers — does that sound familiar? Are you scared yet? The museum was not silent in the middle of the night, like one might assume. Once you got several hundred excited campers together, you had one big ‘Night At The Museum’, where everything came alive.
After blowing up air mattresses, rolling out their sleeping bags, and fluffing up their pillows, pyjama party explorers wandered around a dark museum in suspense, hoping the batteries on their flashlights would not die leaving them in the dark. Who knew what was lurking around the corner.
The Museum was hopping all night long as the students enjoyed tours of Museum Galleries, live science demonstrations, interactive storytelling, and a Planetarium show.
It was a great way for kids to meet other children from around the country and to develop some pen pals (or new Facebook friends) to keep in touch with and to learn about each other.
All photos by Marie LeBlanc.