News / Edmonton

Ain't nothing more Canadian than a Flying Canoe

Maple-syrup whiskey, Métis jigs, tea and bannock, a 50 metre ice slide — is there anything more winter than this?

The Flying Canoe Volant festival is all about light among the winter darkness.


The Flying Canoe Volant festival is all about light among the winter darkness.

A Canadian oral legend has it that when there's a full moon in the winter sky, if you look just right, you will see a group of men condemned by the devil to their canoe, flying endlessly across the heavens.

But there's now an Edmonton twist to this night-based yarn, explains Daniel Cournoyer, with La Cité Francophone. "In February, they make a cameo in the Mill Creek Ravine," he says.

That cameo, of course, is this weekend's running of the Flying Canoe Volant festival, which is in its ninth year. After several permutations over the years it has grown from 3,000 people walking the ravine in the first year to 30,000 last year, Cournoyer says.  

The legend that lends its name also inspires the night festival's approach, as its activities trace back to First Nation, Métis and French-Canadian oral stories. Most tell of men in the bush offered a pact with the devil in exchange for seeing their distant sweeties, and ultimately condemned to fly the dark sky.

All have morphed together in modern times, Cournoyer says. Today there's even a version of the tale based in Fort McMurray, where the men end up flying the sky in their pickup trucks, he adds.

Fittingly for a Canadian festival, the festival's signature walk through the ravine is all about interacting with culture.

Cournoyer says this year's ravine walk begins with two tipis offering talks on reconciliation and tea and bannock at the top, then descends down to a French-Canadian storyteller retelling the Flying Canoe tale in both English and French, and then finally to a Métis band with dancers, where people in the crowd will teach you how to get your jig on.

"The objective is to participate in something, not just observe," Cournoyer says. "It's a festival that's meant to engage you. It's full of music and dancing, but you're not watching the dance, you're asked to participate in the dance."

Within the ravine, lighting is provided by Edmonton's nationally renowned light genius, Dylan Toymaker (along with 11 other artists) to add whimsy and beauty, as if that were lacking, and atop the ravine, around La Cité Francophone, the mood shifts to merriment, with bands, a bar serving maple-syrup whiskey (yep), a 50-metre ice slide, kick-sled races and, of course, the hyper popular fat bike chariot race.

Cournoyer says all of it makes him feel Edmonton is experiencing a winter "renaissance," as we  remember the ways we always loved winter, but forgot as technology pushed us inside.

"We lost our strength about putting on our boots, our long-johns and a toque and going outside," he says.

Given the growth of the festival, that looks to have changed.

More on