Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg, Canada
“What’s a Beaver Tail?”
All eyes were looking to me for the answer. We were standing beside a huge ice sculpture; it was one of many at the Festival du Voyageur, a ten-day celebration of Canada’s fur-trading past and of Winnipeg’s French community.
“It’s a fried, flat pastry usually covered with cinnamon or maple,” I answered, trying to remember the last time I had even eaten one.
All around us were people dressed as voyageurs, their moccasins, red belts, and wooly toques an easily distinguishable uniform for any Winnipegger. Adriana, my new Brazilian friend, shivered.
“This is what I love about Winnipeg,” she said, her voice muffled through a scarf, her breath wispy white in the afternoon air.
“No matter what the temperature,” she continued, “there are always people out to celebrate, to play music, to dance, to drink, to laugh. Winnipeg reminds me of São Paulo.”
I smiled - I couldn’t imagine comparing my small prairie city to boisterous and vibrant Brazil. My hometown was known for cold winters, summer mosquitoes, wheat, and hockey. Although I hadn’t lived in Winnipeg for ten years, I figured not much had changed.
Unable to shake the chill, we trudged across the park, stopping occasionally to visit teepees, poke through souvenir shops, and chat with voyageurs of all ages huddled around fires. Eventually we found ourselves at the Snow Bar, instantly warmed by the jovial patrons drinking local brews and fortified caribou wine. We peeled off our outer layers and paid the extra toonie, Canada’s two dollar coin, to have our beverages served in ice cups; we spent the rest of the day sharing poutine, laughs, and stories from our times abroad.
The band started, all fiddles and guitars and fake moustaches in honour of Louis Riel, a provincial hero. People danced on the straw-covered floor while small TVs broadcasted the night’s curling match. It was a whirl of plaid shirts, hoots of laughter, cans of beer and hockey jerseys – it was so typically, so unequivocally, so absolutely Canadian, and I loved it. Everyone was smiling, their cheeks flushed with the warm air, with the alcohol, and with the festive nature of the event. Adriana’s comparison suddenly didn’t feel so abstract.
When darkness had fallen and it was time to leave, we bundled up again, bracing ourselves against a cold now emboldened by the absence of the sun. With one final stop to get a Beaver Tail, we left the festival and headed to the bus stop, where we jumped and stamped our feet and hugged to stay warm.
Riding over the Provencher Bridge, the city’s modest skyline ahead, the frozen Red River below, the bus windows were nearly frosted over. As I savoured the Beaver Tail’s sweetness, I looked out at my frozen city, my home. Adriana was right. Winnipeg, though a city often shrouded in cold whiteness, suddenly felt warm. It truly was a city of spirit, and of colour.
(More photos of this day coming soon)