Every year in February, the people of The Pas throw a big party in honour of the trappers of a bygone era. But if you’re thinking that the Northern Manitoba Trappers’ Festival is all about remembering the lost skills that were necessary for a life in the bush, think again. These skills have not been lost. They’re alive and well in The Pas and they make for quite a show.
Spectators will see competitors swing an axe with blinding speed, carry hundreds of pounds of flour on their backs and drive a howling team of sled dogs across the finish line. They’ll see brave souls set traps, filet fish, build fires from scratch and even whip up a snack over that open fire. And that’s just the first day.
To get the most out of your visit to the festival, we’ve prepared a few tips. So gas up the ride (650 km north of Winnipeg) and pack a dead furbearer to wear on your head. Don’t forget your Tums. And don’t shave your legs.
1. Dress Accordingly
Proper attire for the festival is dictated by one part necessity and one part tradition. The necessity part comes into play because, after all, this is February in northern Manitoba and it can get a bit chilly. Besides, with climate change nipping at our heels, there aren’t many places where we can still wear our extra bulky, extra flashy Canada Goose brand down filled parkas. The tradition part can be seen in headwear. Granted, in most parts of Manitoba it’s probably acceptable to wear a dead furbearer on your noggin. At the Trappers’ Festival, it’s nearly mandatory. Take your pick from a traditional muskrat hat or a fancy fox-trimmed bonnet.
2. Do Lunch
For those of you on that low carb, low cal thing, stop reading now. Today’s entrée includes breaded pickerel fried to a golden brown, homestyle baked beans, pan-fried potatoes with onions and a ball of bannock twice the size of your fist. If you’re feeling extra peckish, add a bowl of beef stew chock full or root vegetables. That oughtta keep you fueled through the afternoon. All this is served up in the basement of a community hall that’s kept lively thanks to a local fiddle and guitar duo doing an impressive cover of Buck Owens’ The Streets of Bakersfield. If you lay down $10, you’re leaving the kitchen staff a nice tip. That includes dessert, just in case you weren’t quite full.
3. Brush Up on Your Culinary Skills
When was the last time you built a fire? Filleted a fish? Whipped up a batch of bannock and cooked it over an open flame? Okay, maybe it’s been a while. The Trappers’ Festival is the perfect cooking school because if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. When the temperature is more than a few degrees below freezing, cutting lard into a flour, baking powder and salt mixture can get a bit challenging. Similarly, separating a filet from a fish with half frozen hands is tough. But just think how easy things will be back in your own kitchen when you fire up the gas range, pull out the pastry board and have that $95 Henckel knife at your disposal. Enter the King or Queen Trapper Competition and start practicing.
4. Save the Shave and a Haircut
The Trappers’ Festival wraps up with an event called Beerfest. Need we say more? The six-hour event provides an opportunity to buy an ice worm shooter. The squiggly thing at the bottom is the northern cousin of the tequila worm. A few shooters will help you thoroughly enjoy the following events: Best Beer Belly, Best Buns and World Championship Bedroom Eyes (which are a lot easier to judge once you’ve had an ice worm shooter or two). The final event is Hairiest Legs. Interestingly, this event attracts an equal number of contestants of both sexes.
5. Shop ’Til You Find Birch Syrup
Make time to explore the town and pick up a few souvenirs. Rocky Lake Birchworks produces pure birch syrup, as in from birch trees. Move over maple! Pick up a 125 ml bottle for $14 at the Sam Waller Museum or the tourist information office.
Get in touch with Syd McKay and take home one of his custom knives—a gorgeous and unique keepsake from the north. Have a look at some samples at Ginnie’s Pro Tackle Stop.
Take home mocs, muks, a fur hat or some moose hide mitts. Get these handcrafted items at Jane’s Crafts & Hobbies and White Feather Cree-Ations.
Get lost for hours in the www.samwallermuseum.ca. It’s housed in the 1916 courthouse and contains over 70,000 items including critters, books, photos and fine art pieces.
Have a dance with Lady Luck at the Aseneskak Casino on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. It’s open daily and features a gift shop and restaurant.
If you go:
Northern Manitoba Trappers’ Festival happens every February. For details about where to stay, visit http://www.townofthepas.com/. It’s roughly a seven-hour drive from Winnipeg. Flights are also available through Calm Air.