Daniel Cournoyer still remembers skating on Grandin Pond in minus 20 degree weather and freezing his earlobes. Or gliding across Grosvenor Rink aspiring to be a great hockey sensation.
Although the former St. Albert resident never made it to the NHL, now as executive director of La CitĂ© Francophone (a cultural and community centre), he is morphing into a phenomenal booster of winter activities.
For Cournoyer, this coming Friday and Saturday is a winter weekend unlike any other. It is the debut of the inaugural City of Light and the Flying Canoe Adventure Walk, a project he has steered for the past year.
“We want to get people outside embracing the winter nights, and we want to make it as festive as possible. And now that we are officially recognized in Bonnie Doon as the French Quarter, of course we are trying to create awareness,” Cournoyer explains.
Mounted at La CitĂ© and Mill Creek Ravine, this winter light festival encompasses a raft of activities for young and old.
The two-day event features a nightly trek through the ravine where groups of lost voyageurs wander aimlessly in their canoes guiding folks thorough an odyssey of light installations and adventure.
At La CitĂ©, music director Jason Kodie has amassed a multi-ethnic roster of entertainment ranging from assorted live bands and a deejay to dancing and storytelling.
The festival is actually an offspring of Edmonton’s now defunct Winter Light Festival. It was put on ice last year after a funding shortfall forced organizers to close its doors. In the last year, its most popular event was the Mill Creek Adventure Walk, which attracted nearly 5,000 people.
After the closure Cournoyer approached Pamela Anthony, Winter Light’s executive director, about taking on the festival.
“Of course we gave it a French twist,” says Cournoyer.
La CitĂ© has borrowed the French legend of the flying canoe. It was said that a rich nobleman named Gallery loved the hunt so much he even refused to attend Sunday mass. As punishment, he was condemned to forever fly through the night sky chased by a galloping horse and howling wolves.
When the French settlers arrived in Canada, they swapped stories with First Nations People and the tale of Gallery was blended with an Indian legend about a flying canoe.
In the present day version, voyageurs working far away from home wish to return to their families for the new year. They make a deal with the devil to borrow a flying canoe for transport.
“But they can’t drink or swear or run into a church steeple. They get drunk and lose control of the canoe and you guessed it, they run into a church steeple. And so they are lost in limbo looking for someone who will steer them towards the City of Light,” Cournoyer said.
Visitors can start at any of the numerous entrances to the ravine. Lost voyageurs will guide them to a teepee-decorated base camp with warm fires, hot chocolate and storytelling.
Brightening the journey are whimsical lanterns strung throughout the ravine.
“People will be greeted by a sleigh ride and whisked away to the City of Light,” Cournoyer says.
The glass-walled CitĂ©, representing the City of Light, will “be dressed up in light and colour, and we will make it as majestic as possible.”
At La Cite’s indoor entertainment venue, the Friday night headliner is Marco Claveria Project.
“Marco is from Chile and brings a Latin flavour to the evening. If anybody feels a hint of cold, he’ll warm up quickly throughout the evening,” Kodie says.
The evening’s first opener is Post Script, a folksy-pop duo that includes multi-award winner Paul Cournoyer and Stephanie Blais.
“He’s a second-year Grant MacEwan student and talent oozes out of him. He’s a quick study, a quick read and comes with no baggage.”
A second warm-up act is Ariane Lemire, a solo bilingual artist.
“She plays electric guitar and gives a unique performance. It’s unconventional and unorthodox, but I really appreciate her,” Cournoyer said.
On Saturday, Rigadon kicks off the evening with series of Celtic inspired French Canadian tunes. No other group during the weekend can claim as many Juno award-winning musicians. The four-piece includes Shannon Johnson, Jeremiah McDade, Maria Dunn and Spencer Murray.
Next on the lineup is Allez Ouest, a five piece western Canadian folk band with a French vibe that brings together Kodie, McDade, Cournoyer, Mireille Moquin and Robert Walsh.
Third Branch, a reggae ska band, is the featured act.
“I heard them last fall. They are four females and members at Grant MacEwan. They bring a fresh reggae ska sound. Prior to them, the only reggae band I knew was Souljafyah.”
“They’re young and they’re hungry. When I approached them to ask their price, they gave me a ridiculously low price. I told them not to undervalue themselves and paid them twice. I wanted to give some flavour to the festival other than French acts.”
Outside on the patio, both Friday and Saturday, DJ Patrice SauvĂ© will spin mainstream pop and dance group Zephyr will lift off with a few toe-tappers.
Kodie concludes saying, “It’s going to be a great family event. La CitĂ© will be lit beautifully inviting people in from the street, and bridging communities is important to us. It’s important to bash the stereotype and have a more inclusive society.”
The festival starts at 5 p.m. both nights. More information is available at www.thecityoflight.ca
The City of Light, Flying Canoe Adventure Walk
Feb. 1 and 2
Mill Creek Ravine from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
La CitĂ© Francophone from 5 p.m. to 12 p.m.
8627 – 91 St.