Sparks fly as 50th annual Festival du Voyageur gets underway

Winnipeg's 50th annual winter celebration of fur-trapping and Franco-Manitoban culture got started with a bang.

Fireworks fill night sky over St. Boniface as 2019 celebration of fur-trapping, Franco-Manitoban culturebegins

A show of white and red fireworks filled the night sky over the Festival du Voyageur grounds in St. Boniface Friday night to mark opening night of the 50th annual winter celebration. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Winnipeg's 50th annual winter celebration of fur-trapping and Franco-Manitoban culture got started with a bang.

Festival du Voyageur opened Friday night with fireworks that filled the night sky over the St. Boniface festival grounds.

George Forest founded the festival in 1969, coinciding with Canada's centennial and distinctly tied to the francophone heritage.

Festival-goers warm up by a fire near a table and mugs carved out of ice Friday night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Volunteer Pamela Gordon was happy with how things turned out opening night.

"They did a wonderful job today," said Gordon. "It's a wonderful night, it's beautiful outside. And it's gorgeous, all the sculptures, and the people are wonderful."

Surrounded by snow sculptures, festival du Voyageur volunteer Pamela Gordon says opening night was a great success.

Conditions were cold but tolerable Friday as the mercury dipped into the low –20s in the early evening.

"We've just started and I think so far the weather is agreeing with us so it should be a great festival," said Agathe Lacroix.

Her husband, Guy Lacroix, has been coming to the festival for 30 to 40 of the past 50 years, he said.

Guy Lacroix and his hat were having fun outside on opening night. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"It's a big number," he said of the special occasion. "It's been growing bigger all the time. It used to just be a St. Boniface festival, now it's a Western Canada festival, really."

The common fire pits around the grounds drew chilly crowds in for warmth. One such area was right next to tables and empty mugs chiseled from ice.

At some point in the night the mugs may have been filled with caribou, a festival favourite that combines fortified wine, whisky and maple sugar.

"Even though it's cold outside it's always warm out here," said Lacroix.

The festival runs Feb. 15-24.

Hay bales surround one of several warming stations around Voyageur Park. (Walther Bernal/CBC)