St. Albert’s biggest celebration of Métis arts and culture is back this weekend, and this time it’s free.
The 11th annual Métis Spring Festival Red-River-jigs back into St. Albert this Friday through Sunday at Servus Place. The event typically draws thousands of fiddle players, dancers and guests from across Western Canada together to celebrate all things Métis.
While tickets to the festival typically run for less than $10, this year's event will have free admission thanks to support from the Métis Nation of Alberta, said Don Langford, executive director of the Métis Child and Family Services Support Society (which runs the festival). They're also waiving entry fees for the talent show, jigging and fiddling contests.“Our big concern is families,” Langford said, and the organizers didn’t want families turned off by the price of a ticket.
“I’m thinking we’ll have a great turnout.”
This is only the second time in history that the festival has had free admission, the Gazette archives suggest. (The first one was free but charged $10 for dinner.)
This festival is a popular event for Alberta’s Métis and an important showcase of Métis culture, said Métis Nation of Alberta president Audrey Poitras, when asked about the sponsorship.
“It’s really about supporting the community of St. Albert and being able to showcase talent.”
This year’s festival will feature the usual Friday talent show and two days of jigging, fiddling, and square-dancing competition. The top four performers in each category have a shot at thousands of dollars in prizes. If you’re a fan of the fiddle, legendary Canadian players Calvin Vollrath and Alfie Myhre will be playing all weekend. There will also be plenty of chances to learn about Métis heritage and services at information booths and the vendors’ alley.
“A lot of people seem to forget that St. Albert was one of the first homes of the Métis people in Alberta,” Langford said. Festivals like this are meant to give people a chance to learn more about that history.
“We’re just trying to keep our spirit alive.”
Langford said springtime would have been a busy time for his great-grandfather as a Métis trader. This was when you would load your Red River cart up with furs and set out for a months-long trek to Winnipeg. Once there, you’d trade in your furs, load up on goods, and trek on back home. By that time, half your summer was gone.
“Each time they’d come into a camp, people would celebrate.”
While the Métis don’t have specific rituals or celebrations associated with spring, they do tend to get together to celebrate whenever they can with music and dance, Poitras said.
“My father was a square dancer,” she said, and their home was often host to fiddling or dancing competitions.
Saskatchewan’s Back to Batoche Festival features many classic spring spring/summer activities, such as three-legged racing, axe tossing, strength contests, and bannock baking, she continued.
Doors for the St. Albert festival open at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the talent show and 1 p.m. on the weekend for the jigging and fiddling contests. Call Florence Gaucher at 780-452-6100 ext. 227 for details.