Sugar rush hits St. Pierre-Jolys, Man., as annual maple syrup festival kicks off

A southern Manitoba village is enjoying a sugar rush this weekend as the annual Festival des Sucres — or Sugaring Off Festival — kicks off in St. Pierre-Jolys, Man.

The event was held mostly online this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Music, dance, cooking demonstrations and history lessons rounded out that virtual offering.

There were also a few in-person activities at reduced capacity in the community about 50 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

The usual French cuisine served at the festival was also cut out because of the pandemic, said Roland Gagne, president of the St-Pierre-Jolys Museum where the in-person activities were held.

But organizers encouraged local restaurants to participate and offer their own special dishes for people to order during the festival.

Gagne said while the festival’s main focus is maple syrup, there’s so much more about the community’s history to celebrate.

“[There’s history] here with the Red River Métis, the soldiers of La Vérendrye — which are the French marines. We also have our Red River cart that’s being used on site,” Gagne said.

He also encouraged people to visit the museum to see its new exhibit on a cathedral that was torn down in the community about 40 years ago.

The pared-down celebration saw attendance drop from the usual turnout of between 500 and 800 visitors a day, Gagne said. 

On Saturday, he guessed that only about 200 people came through in small groups.

This weekend’s festival included history lessons to teach people more about the community’s culture. (Thomas Asselin/Radio-Canada)

Usually, the festival hosts a sugar shack at Festival du Voyageur — but that didn’t happen this year because the Winnipeg celebration also went online-only because of the pandemic.

Organizers of the Sugaring Off Festival are now holding a fundraiser online to try to support the museum’s operating costs.

Next year, they’re hoping things might be a little closer to normal.

“We hope to be bigger, better and COVID-free,” Gagne said.