A legend can be more than just a tall tale meant to teach or entertain. Sometimes legends can serve a greater purpose, one that binds a nation and its people together around a story that belongs to them.
One of the tales that has become part of the national consciousness is the story of the Flying Canoe, known as la chasse-galerie in French, a French-Canadian story of voyageurs who make a deal with the devil. The pact involves transporting a group of voyageurs from their remote camp to New Year’s Eve festivities in a flying canoe. In exchange for the magical powers bestowed on the canoe, the voyageurs have a set of rules they must follow which, of course, they break and are forced to forever sail through the night sky on New Year’s Eve on their flying canoe.
The Flying Canoe manifests in a wide range of Canadiana including a postage stamp, a beer label, an amusement park ride in Montréal. It was even featured during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Edmonton’s tribute to the Flying Canoe legend takes the form of a two-day event that transforms Mill Creek Ravine and La Cité Francophone into grounds for the family friendly festival. The ravine serves as the site for drumming, dancing and costumed characters connected to the legend, and it all takes place under beautiful light installations as visitors stroll from station to station. At the end of the ravine a horse-drawn carriage carts people over to La Cité Francophone, where they can take part in an ice slide, an ice bar and making maple taffy while checking out music provided by DJs.
“It’s not as much a festival as an adventure,” explains Daniel Cournoyer, executive director of La Cité Francophone. “It’s a night-walk through a ravine followed by a trip to the ultimate warming hut. There is no one starting point or finishing point.”
The Flying Canoë Volant originally started as part of the Winterlights event, which has since ceased operation, and has grown into a major event of its own, attracting over 12 000 participants last year. Cournoyer says the event is built on the artistic and historic context of the Flying Canoe legend, but there is a deeper purpose as well.
“It’s a chance to connect and dialogue with our indigenous, Métis and Francophone communities,” he explains. “It really pays homage to those founding communities, and it’s a chance for all of Edmonton to participate.
“Everyone is taking the story as part of their inspiration,” Cornoyer continues. “And it can’t be more Canadian than having a canoe involved.”