By Julijana Capone
WINNIPEG — “When it gets really cold in Winnipeg, instead of complaining about the weather, we just throw a party,” says Julien Desaulniers, artistic producer for the Festival du Voyageur, touted as Western Canada’s largest winter festival.
“We want to embrace winter,” he adds. “That’s the whole ethos: taking winter on.”
Not your usual winter fete, this celebration is specifically rooted in French-Canadian and Métis culture, while also conjuring the spirit of the voyageurs that paddled their canoes along the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers around the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, the “joie de vivre” or love of life—despite hardship—of those burly travellers can still be felt in the fortitude of Winnipeg’s citizens even today.
For 10 days over February, Winnipeggers don their moccasins, toques and ceinture fléchées and get down like it’s 1815. “When you walk into Festival, you smell the wood chips on the ground, you’re eating the maple taffy, listening to a seven-piece traditional band from Quebec, like Le Bal à l’huile, and you’re like, ‘This is it. This is the voyageur…I’m in 1815.’”
Sound a little out of your millennium? It’s not, really. Especially when it comes to the cornucopia of music.
Over 170 acts from across the country will grace stages at Voyageur Park and venues in and around St. Boniface (Winnipeg’s French borough), including quirky Regina singer-songwriter Étienne Fletcher, folk-rocker Mélanie Brulée and veteran Acadian party-starter Danny Boudreau, as well as Montreal-based sister duo Les sœurs Boulay, dance-pop chanteuse Laurence Nerbonne, and pop-rock par excellence from Alexandre Désilets.
“We love to represent la Francophonie across Canada,” says Desaulniers. “We always take care to hire Francophone bands from Western Canada, Ontario, and Acadian and Quebec bands. We want to show the diversity of Francophones in Canada.”
Over at the Discothèque on Ice (a.k.a. the frozen river trail), a selection of crate-diggers, such as DJ Kasm, DJ BEEKEENI and Cedrik Le Fantastik, will spin their fave French tunes from Gainsbourg to Daft Punk.
Even non-French acts, spanning just about every musical appetite, are on the bill—from gloomy darkwave courtesy of Ghost Twin to surf-rock from The Catamounts and heartstring-pulling pop via Calgary’s MBF (a.k.a. Michael Bernard Fitzgerald). Plus, tons more.
And being the inclusive event that it is, the festival will be adding a Winter Pride Celebration for Winnipeg’s LGBTQ community to its 2017 programming. “It’s time,” says Desaulniers. “We’ve been around for 48 years and we want to be as inclusive as possible…It’s gonna be one hell of a party.”
Aside from honouring the jovial ways of the voyageur, the festival is, in many ways, a celebration of coming together as a community—served in the language of love. “I like to think of myself as a product of Festival du Voyageur, because my birthday is in November, which is exactly nine months after the festival in February,” says Desaulniers, with a laugh. “I like to think that the festival had something to do with that.”
Festival du Voyageur runs February 17-26. For more information on the festival, full lineup details, and ticket prices, head to festivalvoyageur.mb.ca.Festival du Voyageur, Ghost Twin, Laurence Nerbonne, Les soeurs Boulay, Manitoba, MB, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald