Snow sculptures are a big part of western Canada’s biggest winter festival, Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg, Manitoba, even in a year when the festival has been forced to go virtual
Winnipeg, Manitoba is a city of festivals. Most occur in the summer months, but winter is not devoid of festivals. Festival du Voyageur is the largest winter festival in Western Canada. In 2020, Festival du Voyageur was the last festival to occur before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down. A year later with things still mostly shut down, the 2021 Festival du Voyageur went to a virtual format. One aspect, however, could still be enjoyed in person, albeit with a few changes: the snow sculptures.
The ten-day festival, which takes place every February, celebrates French-Canadian culture and the history of voyageurs and Métis and First Nations peoples. Voyageurs were French Canadians who transported furs by canoe during the fur trade years. Fiddle music, jigging, contemporary and traditional French-Canadian music, traditional cuisine, voyageur games, winter activities, historical interpretations, educational programming, snow sculptures, and wood carving contests are part of the festival’s “joie de vivre,” a French phrase for exuberant enjoyment of life.
The 2021 virtual format featured online concerts, online fiddling and jigging contests, and a video series highlighting aspects of francophone and Métis culture and traditions. A local restaurant and distillery offered take-home traditional meals and festival-inspired cocktails.
The festival’s snow sculpting contest usually features artists from around the world creating innovative and detailed snow sculptures. You’ll also find a few other snow sculptures pop up throughout the city. Due to pandemic restrictions, the contest was unable to proceed in 2021. Instead the festival harnessed local world-class talent to build nearly 30 sculptures in several different locations within the city. The year has also seen a number of people try their hands at snow sculpting in their yards. Some of those are included in the festival’s map of snow sculptures.
In my opinion, the impact of the 2021 sculptures is not as awe-inspiring as in years when artists from around the world created a variety of sculptures, all of which were in one location on the festival’s main site, but the sculptures are still impressive. It is uplifting to see sculptures in different locations when driving through the city. I am amazed at how many individuals have tried their own sculpting. It brings a smile to my face to unexpectedly come across a yard with a sculpture in it, whether that sculpture is sophisticated or rudimentary. I’d like to add that another challenge thrown at 2021 sculptors was that of extreme cold. Most of the days in the week before and the week of Festival had extreme cold warnings. I drove down Provencher Street on one of the coldest days a week before Festival and was surprised to see a hardy carver or two working on their blocks of snow.
A sampling of the 2021 sculptures are highlighted in the rest of the post. The Festival snow sculpture map identifies locations where these and more sculptures can be found.
Whittier Park and Fort Gibraltar are the heart of Festival du Voyageur with many activities taking place here. In a regular Festival year, this spot would be alive with people, music, historical interpretations, and food vendors. It is also the location where you’d find the snow sculpture contest entries. The handful of sculptures on the site in 2021are from the Conseil jeunesse provincial Youth Symposium, a symposium created to foster a new generation of snow sculptors. (Note that the sculpture featured at the top of this post is one of the sculptures at Whittier Park. “Hé Ho”, pronounced “hay hoe,” is the Festival cheer yelled enthusiastically at the festivities.)
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Three snow sculptures are located around the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The stunning architecture of the building makes an impressive backdrop for the sculptures.
Provencher Boulevard is the main street running through St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French Quarter. The boulevard in the middle dividing the opposite lanes of traffic is home to five large sculptures.
The winter of 2020-2021 has seen a number of Manitobans take to creating their own snow sculptors. These amateur sculptors could submit their sculpture to Festival organizers for inclusion in its sculpture map.
I haven’t visited all the sites on the festival map. There were, unfortunately, a couple of sites I went where I didn’t find the sculpture. Perhaps it no longer existed, the map was a bit out, or I somehow missed it. However, as I drove around, I was pleasantly surprised to spot a few sculptures on other yards. Some were very simple, others more elaborate, and some rather clever (like the snow robot created by using square blocks of snow for a snowman instead of round ones). Snow sculpting has become a creative outlet when so many activities are limited by pandemic restrictions.
Bears on Barrington, aka Mini Churchill
Weeks before Festival started, a woman’s house on Barrington Avenue in south Winnipeg became an attraction. The yard was filled with bear snow sculptures created by Vinora Bennett. It is her first year and first attempt at snow sculpting. Her efforts gained the attention of the U.S. daytime talk show Live with Kelly and Ryan. She was a guest on their January 28, 2021 show.
A Note About Festival Du Voyageur
If you want to read more about what Festival Du Voyageur looks like in non-pandemic times, you can read my post Hé Ho: Festival du Voyageur Highlights. The snow sculptures pictured in that post were melting because they were taking during a “Festival Thaw” year with very mild temperatures.
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