Mattawa rings out July not with a whimper, but with a rock and roll bang as crowds gather at picturesque Explorer’s Point for a weekend of music, festivities, and celebration of local history.
Voyageur Days has proven to be an annual hit, and organizers continue working to bring the festival back—bigger, better, and perhaps much different than before.
For 22 years the Voyageur Days festival entertained the region, hosting a wealth of music royalty on the main stage, and building a reputation as a must-see event.
Covid-19 tripped up that two-decade run, with organizers cancelling two years in a row, beginning with the 2020 show.
However, although on hiatus, plans for 2022 continue to simmer, and organizers will bring these to boil in the upcoming months.
“A few months back we had to put out the word that we were postponing,” explained Renee Paquette, the town’s events coordinator and one of the festival’s organizers.
“We used postponing because we hated using the word cancelling,” she said, “because then it makes It feel like it’s never happening again,” which is far from true.
Also true is changes are on the horizon. “I’m getting the vibe that Mattawa’s interested in redesigning and rethinking the festival,” Paquette said, “reimagining what it could look like.”
She’s going to rally the planning committee this coming September and hunt out “some new blood as well” to freshen the idea cauldron as they brew up a new festival image.
So far, the ideas are wide open, although Paquette has been hearing “echoes” from other communities that certain festivals may want to merge with Voyageur Days. An option she is very open to, “because we’re so central.”
Nothing is confirmed, “but these conversations are starting to happen.”
It takes a year to plan the festival, plenty of time for the new vision to materialize once the committee returns to the table.
All options for the festival’s future will cross that table, including possibly re-naming the entire event, “as we reimagine what this looks like.”
“To be honest, it’s carte blanche,” Paquette said. “Let’s open our minds. I’m sure we’re not the only festival after Covid to want to change things up.”
“We’re going to grab the bull by the horns and see where that takes us.”
Overall, the goal remains to continue producing a weekend event, complete with entertainment and activities, although what these are remains up for debate.
Will it lean towards country music? Continue with the classic Canadian rock and roll headliners? Could a comedian or three grace the stage? Might a jazz note emanate from that river-facing stage?
Only time will tell. And area residents, whom Paquette wants to hear from, as their ideas will inform the event’s future.
“You need community buy-in,” she said, “you don’t want the community to feel they’re being stomped on in their own backyards. They should be part of it, they should be sitting at the table.”
Even if some of those comments are negative, “we need to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly,” when considering options.
As plans unroll, Paquette is also applying for funds to build a new stage, the centerpiece of the festival grounds.
Grant applications are in the works through FedNor, with the goal of building a permanent stage on site, complete with concrete floor and a roof. Currently, the stage is assembled piece-meal by town staff, and once the music ends, returns to silent storage.
This new structure “would be more of a bandshell,” like the Kiwanis stage at North Bay’s waterfront. “It would be a 100 per cent upgrade,” if funding is approved.
“I’m really excited to see what’s on the horizon,” Paquette enthused.
“Sometimes that’s all it needs is a little brush up,” she added. “Dust it off, tweak it and reimagine what it could look like and be open, and I think the town is definitely excited for that.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.