With weather and site evolutions, change in the air at this year’s Festival du Voyageur

Your fur coat and ceinture fléchée may be purely ornamental at this year’s balmier Festival du Voyageur, but the 55th annual celebration of joie de vivre is finding ways to embrace change.

“We’re sort of ensuring that every element that means that joie de vivre is on the agenda at the festival is still there, but it might look and taste slightly different, and that’s okay,” said Eric Plamondon, Festival du Voyageur’s president.

Plamondon says the ‘unique’ winter has sparked a pivot for the festival, mainly in the event’s beloved snow sculptures. While the frosty formations festival-goers have come to know and love will still be on display, there will also be sculptures made of eco-friendly, recycled materials, like wood slabs and straw.

In past years, the festival has welcomed a slate of international artists to sculpt and mould snow to decorate Fort Gibraltar and other locations across the city. Organizers scrapped that plan given this El Nino year’s less than plentiful precipitation.

An artist makes final tweaks to a snow sculpture at Whittier Park in anticipation of the 55th annual Festival du Voyageur on Feb. 15, 2024. (Image Source: CTV News Winnipeg)

While they hope to welcome international artists back next year, organizers say the recycled material sculptures could be here to stay.

“We’re kind of looking at how the weather patterns are showing,” said Christel Lanthier, the festival’s sculptures coordinator.

“We have been bringing in more painted artwork, more physical artwork. We want to showcase more artists, more Winnipeg artists, more international artists, so looking at different materials is going to be an ongoing conversation for us, definitely.”

In addition to the sculptures, this year’s event welcomes over 150 artists to the main stage, from The Strumbellas to K’Naan to Noah Derksen.

Old favourites like snowshoeing, woodcarving demonstrations and historical interpretations are back, plus new features, like an Indigenous art gallery.

Festival du Voyageur crews are shown in a Feb. 15, 2024 picture readying Whittier Park for the 55th annual event. (Image Source: CTV News Winnipeg)

‘Things are different’

This year also marks the first Festival du Voyageur since a walkway at Fort Gibraltar collapsed last May during a school field trip.

The group of 17 people from St. John’s-Ravenscourt School were on the historical fort’s elevated walkway 20 feet above the ground when it gave way.

Parents of two of the children have since filed lawsuits against the City of Winnipeg and Festival du Voyageur.

Plamondon says they have spent time and effort to ensure the site is secure for this year’s festival.

That includes dismantling the palisade walls. Pieces of the structure branded with Fort Gibraltar are also available for festival-goers to take home with them if they want a keepsake.

Plamondon says organizers are embracing the change, while maintaining the heart of the beloved event.

“We’re acknowledging that things are different,” he said.

“People will see some hints of that throughout, but I’m also very happy that a lot of partners came and said ‘How can we help’ and ‘How can we make sure that the site does feel that the heritage is valued.’”

This year’s Festival du Voyageur runs from Feb. 16 to 25.

– With files from CTV’s Charles Lefebvre and Devon McKendrick

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