Festival du Voyageur offers something for everyone in 2015
By Jon Waldman
The change of season doesn’t bring a lot of interest in outdoor activity for Winnipeggers, except for one particular time of winter — when the Francophone community brings its heritage to the centre of the city for the annual Festival du Voyageur celebration.
With humble beginnings, Festival now sits as one of Winnipeg’s premier events. At one point, the extravaganza was a four-day festival in our city’s French community, but has grown exponentially since.
“St. Boniface entrepreneurs wanted something to do in the winter that celebrates Winnipeg’s winter and Francomanitoban culture and generate some economic impact,” Irene Ivanov, Director of Marketing and Communications for Festival says. “It started small. At first it was a four-day festival in a little park on Provencher, but now it’s 10 days all across the city.”
The reasons for its growth are many — continually evolving program offerings with traditional aspects of Winnipeg’s large French community for one; and yet, when you boil everything down to its core, Festival has the attractiveness of being able to embrace what makes us unique — that even in the cold, we can still find a way to have a good time.
“I think it’s the appeal of joire de vivre,” Ivanov explains. “There’s nowhere else in Winnipeg that you can find an outdoor party, celebrating all things about winter,” she says. “Of course we have the Rivertrail and all that, but to really find Francophone culture and see people embracing the winter season.”
This past year’s edition of the Festival was the 45th in its long run and had over 100,000 visitors, a staggering number no matter what way you slice it; but when you look at what that population consists of, it shows a lot of strength, both in extending beyond its own community and having activities that appeal to different demographics.
“The audience has changed also,” Ivanov reflects. “Before it was very geared towards Francophones, but we see now a lot of Anglophones, new immigrants… it’s really nice to see this diversity. There’s something for all ages — during the day we have a school and playground with slides, hayrides and those attractions, and then at night it becomes this big party with young adults and adults that want to have a good time and watch live shows.”
Give credit to event organizers fully for this growth. Putting on a multi-day event like this takes careful planning, not the least of which means keeping a firm handle on both what has worked and maintaining the favourites, but also breathing new life into the event each year with debuting activities.
“They always look forward to the traditional things such as Fort Gibraltar and having maple syrup on a stick, but we’ve grown and we try to innovate in our activities,” Ivanov says. “This past year we had the very first fashion show on ice — on the river trail. We also had a brand new venue with an outdoor bar. So each year, even though we have our classic activities, we always try to really find new ways to enjoy winter.”
This emergence has come not just by happenstance either. Rather than focusing inward and coming up with ideas among organizers, the Festival du Voyageur committee has instead looked outward for inspiration, bringing communities from across cultures into the Franchophone celebration. This creates a new sense of community within Winnipeg during, admittedly, one of the times of year when most would not want to necessarily go outdoors; thus, as Ivanov explains, new communities find their legs very quickly as well as the desire to take part in Festival.
“We’ve been working with different community partners to bring all the different groups,” she reports. “We’ve worked very closely with the Filipino community and the Filipino Journal to bring ‘Filipino Day’ and with our new activities and events, we always try to find new audiences and new clientele.”
Though details of new events were not available at press time, organizers have been looking at logistics and analyzing what mechanisms will be available for the coming season.
“Hopefully in 2015 we can use Fort Gibraltar at night so it would become a brand new venue,” Ivanov says. “We’ll have interpreters there, but also create this new space for outdoor programming.”
Undoubtedly as organizers continue to work, there will be several announcements that give credence and excitement to the new year; but at the core, for those who have not been to Festival before, there are numerous reasons why you should put it on your winter planning calendar.
“When you go to Voyageur Park, it’s everything,” Ivanov sums. “It’s the snow sculptures, it’s Fort Gibraltar, it’s the food, the music… for everybody, they can have their own experience and have something to look forward to. It’s all fun.”