News / Edmonton

Flying Canoe Volant celebrates Edmonton's long winter nights

The outdoor celebration of First Nations, Metis and French cultures takes place Feb. 2 and 3 in the city’s French Quarter

Manitoba-based elder Winston Wuttunee will entertain in French, English and Cree at the Flying Canoe Festival this weekend.

Kevin Tuong / For Metro

Manitoba-based elder Winston Wuttunee will entertain in French, English and Cree at the Flying Canoe Festival this weekend.

Put on your long johns, Edmonton.  

Organizers of winter festival Flying Canoe Volant anticipate up to 40,000 hardy souls to take in the free indoor and outdoor celebration of First Nations, Metis and French cultures Feb. 2 and 3 in the city’s French Quarter.

The event is named after a French Canadian and Indigenous legend where a noblemen skipped Sunday mass and was forced to wander the skies forever in a flying canoe.

And while -20 C weather is cold no matter how excited Edmontonians are about winter, Flying Canoe has it covered, with warming huts and interactive dance, stories and bannock-making at the Indigenous Camp (check out the fat bike chariot races too).

The kid-friendly canoe-rides and snow slide on 91 Street and evening-long entertainment inside La Cite Francophone round out the two nights of fun. 

“It’s a festival of light, so whether it’s snowy, cold or not, we know we’re guaranteed darkness,” festival producer Daniel Cournoyer said. “People describe the storytelling, illuminated winter paths and ravine as magical. It is a beautiful way to celebrate the stillness of our long winter nights.”

The lantern-lit ravine (illuminated by Dylan Toymaker and artists with Centre d’Art Visuel de l’Alberta) sets the tone for activities at Rutherford School and the Indigenous Camp—teepees, Metis dancing with The Dave Cunningham Family Band, story-telling and Indigenous drumming and friendship dances—all programmed by festival partner Native Counselling Services of Alberta.

“It’s a principle of the festival—to break down barriers and let people truly participate. We don’t know our Indigenous community that well, so it’s especially important now,” Cournoyer said.

“We’re told Flying Canoe is an act of reconciliation itself, because it encourages playing in the same environment, on the same terms with our fellow Edmontonians from all backgrounds.”

Manitoba-based elder Winston Wuttunee will entertain in French, English and Cree at the Indigenous Camp.

“I’ll be warm enough in my beaded buckskin jacket. The ravine and teepees look beautiful, and I’m excited to share my music and stories,” he said.

Cournoyer says the fun inside La Cite—‘the ultimate warming hut’—isn’t to be missed either, with a cabaret of Edmonton singers and musicians that will “make it feel like a great barn dance for visitors, winter boots and all.”

Neighbourhood resident and festival partner James Hill (co-owner of Aspen Asphalt and Backside Tours) is volunteering equipment and manpower to clear ravine walking paths and has even helped build the 100-foot, curved snow slide. 

“There’s so much culture in this beautiful corner of the city—Bonnie Doon and the French Quarter—I want to be part of sharing it with others,” he said. “And we’re celebrating those who historically have spent their days outdoors, so that’s even more encouragement to join us outside.”

Flying Canoe Volant runs Friday and Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. in the Mill Creek Ravine and at Rutherford School, with the free cabaret running 8 p.m. to midnight at La Cite Francophone.

More on Metronews.ca