Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival celebrates 75th anniversary in The Pas

For the first time in the 75-year history of the Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival, the opening ceremonies were held outdoors by the Ice Fort, which was making its return to the festival after a 30-year absence.

Premier Heather Stefanson travelled north to take in opening ceremonies

Roger Carriere of Cumberland House, Sask., won the goose calling contest at a past Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival. The province's longest-running winter festival kicked off its 75th annual event in The Pas, Man., on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. (MBGovArchives/Twitter)

Temperatures were near the –30 mark as wind blowing in from the Saskatchewan River collided with people at the outdoor opening ceremonies of northern Manitoba's longest-running winter festival Wednesday in The Pas.

For the first time in the 75-year history of the Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival, the opening ceremonies were held outdside by the Ice Fort, which made its return to the festival after a 30-year absence.

But the bitterly cold winter weather didn't dampen the spirit of those in attendance on the first of the festival's five days, said festival chair Jennifer Cook.

"The spirit up here is thick through and through. We are hearty northerners and we don't let things get us down," she said. "We're very much about celebrating what makes us unique and gritting it out."

Premier Heather Stefanson was among the dignitaries taking in the opening ceremonies. Cook believes it's the first time a sitting premier has attended the festival since Gary Doer did so more than a dozen years ago.

"It's been a long time so it was exciting to see her," Cook said of the premier's appearance. "I know the government is trying to bring Manitoba back to some semblance of normality, and the festival is all about embracing that but doing so safely so it was nice to see people there and get excited."

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson attends the opening ceremonies of the 75th annual Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival in The Pas on Wednesday. (Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival/Facebook)

Traditionally, the festival attracted thousands of visitors and competitors, but Cook isn't sure exactly how many of either will be in town between now and Sunday.

After COVID-19 pushed the majority of last year's festival online, the festival's board planned for this year's major milestone with a handful of scenarios in mind depending on the state of the pandemic.

"The board that was put in place really embraced the idea that it's our 75th but we had that understanding that we were still amidst the pandemic and COVID was still very real," Cook said. "We've had to change and go with the flow."

Manitoba started to loosen its pandemic restrictions on Tuesday, but the festival is still adhering to the public health orders that are in place, Cook said.

The 75th annual Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival began on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in The Pas, Man. (Northern Manitoba Trappers' Festival/Facebook)

As a result of the new orders, festival organizers agreed that the World Championship Sled Dog Race, which had to be cancelled last year, is able to have people attend the mass start, which takes place Thursday at 10 a.m.

"It's a super exciting event. Up until last week we were going to have to restrict some attendance to that. That's been lifted so we are really excited because the community really rallies around that and it's a unique experience for our visitors," Cook said.

In addition to the three-day, 30-mile world championship race, there is also a junior dog sled race, as well as four- and six-dog sled races.

The king and queen trapper events are among the other marquee events.

The king trapper features 20 events that test skill and dexterity in events such as flour packing, trap setting, pole climbing and a nine-mile snowshoe race. 

The queen trapper is comprised of 16 events including moose and goose calling, axe throwing, tea boiling and a three-mile race in snowshoes.

"There are really northern, traditional events that are exciting and unique, and these competitors do them regardless of the weather," Cook said.

There are also junior king and queen trapping events, the Fur Queen competition and at least 10 other events.

Cook said Fur Queen contestants have been signing up since October, and they serve as community ambassadors.