From leprechauns to Viking battles, fiddlers to dodo birds, salsa dancing to bannock and everything in between, the 2013 annual Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival officially kicked off at city hall last night, marking the event’s 10th year in existence.
While the event focuses on the cultural diversity of the city, "unity" was the theme at the opening ceremony.
"Winterfest is not just a celebration of what makes us different, it’s also a celebration about what unites us," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said to the more than 200 festival goers and many volunteers that attended the ceremony.
Decter Hirst highlighted the many changes the city has undergone in the last 10 years.
A decade ago, she said, there were 60 Spanish-speaking Brandonites and less than 200 people who could speak Mandarin or Cantonese in the city. Today, more than 2,000 people in the city speak Spanish and another 1,200 speak Mandarin or Cantonese among other languages.
In the festival’s infancy, "we we’re celebrating the cultures of our parents, for the most part," Decter Hirst said.
"What a difference 10 years makes, now we have one of the fastest growing cities in Canada ... Brandon is so much more diversified than we were 10 years ago."
What started out 10 years ago as a conversation about a winter festival in Brandon between former Lt.-Gov. Peter Liba and then-mayor Dave Burgess has grown into one of the city’s most celebrated and cherished events.
This year, the festival will feature a total of 13 pavilions and 20 nations — Brazilian, Colombian, Salvadoran, English, Ethiopia, First Nations, German, Irish, Mauritius, Métis, Scottish, Ukrainian and the Global Village.
The Global Village has more nations than ever, featuring eight different countries under one roof — Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Honduras, Iceland, Kenya and Mexico.
At the opening ceremony, Tom Keep, who was instrumental in getting the festival going, reflected on some of his most treasured memories.
Keep said in its first year, the festival had seven pavilions and expected each pavilion to get about 150 visits throughout the course of the three-day celebrations. When the numbers were counted after the first year, the organizing committee learned there were more than 9,000 visits, well surpassing any expectations — the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival was born.
Keep thanked the more than 1,000 volunteers it takes to run the festival.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell and Brandon West PC MLA Reg Helwer, who have battled in the past and are sure to again in the future, took the stage together to address the crowd — a symbol of the unity of the festival.
Each year, a host pavilion is chosen to open the festival. But on its 10th anniversary, the festival honoured the four pavilions that were involved from the start — First Nation, Métis, Irish and Ukrainian — and have never missed a year.
And it was the host pavilions’ performance that stole the show on this night.
Keeping with the theme of unity, the four pavilions performed together on stage.
What started with the traditional drums and song of First Nations people soon evolved to include Ukrainian violin and Métis fiddle. Next, the Irish spoons added a rhythmic element as dancers from all four cultures first performed their own traditional dances before coming together to perform a round dance highlighting dancing styles from each culture.
The performance had the crowd in awe, clapping along to the beat of the harmonious music and dance of all four cultures.
A lady in the crowd, who hadn’t taken her eyes off the performance, whispered to her friend, "this is amazing."
Her friend whispered back: "this is culture."