Festival du Voyageur

by Kevin Lopuck, Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School, Selkirk, Manitoba

February in Manitoba can be harsh. Friends from warmer climates are often shocked to hear that, as a teacher in a rural Manitoba school division, I can anticipate having a handful of school days canceled per year when the temperature reaches -45°c and the school buses won’t run. Yet, February is also a month that many Manitobans look forward to because it means it’s time for the Festival du Voyageur!

The Festival du Voyageur is held every February in Winnipeg’s “French Quarter” of St. Boniface. The festival’s mission is to promote joie de vivre and extend the reach of the French language and culture throughout the year through artistic, educational, historical and cultural experiences inspired by the voyageur era. The February festival celebrates Manitoba’s Francophone culture and history and invites attendees to enjoy Franco-Manitoban food, drink, and music.

Festival du Voyageur has also had an extensive school program since 1971. A big component, and what many educators are looking for, are programs that can be delivered in French to students of various levels of comprehension. Everything the education program produces is bilingual and accessible to students at their own pace.

Colin Mackie, the Heritage and Education Programs Director for the Festival du Voyageur, describes some of the changes to the Festival in 2021. “We have had to shift entirely to an online model, which is far different from our normal catalogue of activities. We decided to pivot to a virtual program early on in the planning stages (June/July) due to the uncertainty of what was to come in the fall. For 2021, we offered five paid craft programs that include an instructional video, three pre-activity lesson plans and three reflection activities. The instructional videos feature educators with years of experience in a classroom. We have also developed five livestream programs that are available throughout February. Students can interact with a blacksmith, a NWC Clerk and a Voyageur all from the comfort of their classrooms or from home. The programs are around 40 minutes and also include pre- and post-activities/lesson plans for teachers. One of the unexpected outcomes of this odd COVID year is that we were joined virtually by schools from Vancouver to Toronto!”

For the 2022 festival, the organizers are continuing the virtual programme, with a range of free and paid activities for classrooms across Canada to join in the festivities. Festival organizers have craft kits ready to send out to classrooms so each student can join in making games, beadwork, and other handicrafts while watching an instructional video. Registration for virtual events closes February 16, 2022. Many free activities are available throughout the year, with the Activity Guide of the Canada Life School programme online at www.heho.ca