One of Edmonton’s many famous festivals, The Flying Canoë Volant kicked off the New Year by celebrating its 11th anniversary from Feb. 1 to 4. This immersive winter festival was an opportunity for students to learn about French-Canadian and Métis culture. Located in the French Quarters of Edmonton and trailing off into the Mill Creek Ravine, the Flying Canoë Volant is produced by the Centre Communautaire d’Edmonton, a not-for-profit promoting Francophone culture.
So, what is the Flying Canoë Volant all about? An article by Liz Nicholls of the Edmonton Journal explains: “In the late 19th century, Honoré Beaugrand recorded the story of voyageurs who made a deal with the devil to fly them home in their canoes to their sweethearts on New Year’s Eve — with the crucial proviso that they don’t drink, they don’t swear, and they avoid crashing into church steeples. In a party-hearty mood, the boys quaff a few, get into scraps with each other, and one thing leads to another.”
I decided to attend the festival to get a first-hand experience of its lore for myself.
The yearly festival features activities like log cutting, axe throwing and of course, canoe races. From magical werewolves to lumberjacks in canoes, fully costumed actors told interactive stories of the Flying Canoe, each from a unique perspective. The lumberjacks told tales of their dangerous feat canoeing the Saskatchewan river to meet their lovers. To distract the wayward travellers, there were werewolves howling during the long winter nights. There was even a woodpecker hopping along the trails, trying to sell the branch he had as a cure-all winter remedy. For the lumberjacks to get home, they must steer clear of what they may encounter on their journey to reunite with their beloved.
During my time at the festival, I experienced Métis culture through food, dance and music. The Mill Creek Ravine was beautifully lit up with light and art installations from local French-Canadian and Metis artists. Attendees could walk inside one of the tipis to be welcomed by the Métis, who shared their rich culture and history. In one tipi, festival goers created intricate flowers from fish scales dyed from sugar-free kool-aid. Another tipi served guests freshly cooked duck heart, polenta and bannock. A highlight was watching Métis circle dancing, along with many of the other musical artists who performed at the festival.If you missed the festival this year, be sure to join in on the fun next February to immerse yourself in everything else the Flying Canoë Volant has to offer. NAIT’s Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre also has more resources for students looking to learn more about Métis and Aboriginal culture.