Festival awards old-timey volunteer with voyageur-era coat

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Festival awards old-timey volunteer with voyageur-era coat

Thousands have taken in the live music, maple syrup taffy, snow sculptures and more at this year's Festival du Voyageur, but the celebration of Métis and voyageur culture was particularly noteworthy for one of its committed volunteers this year.

Louis Gagné was awarded the "Capot honorifique" (previously known as the "Capot bleu"), a traditional voyageur-style coat made out of a white blanket with blue stripes that's given to people who have volunteered their time to the festival.

"It was a great honour," a pointy-moustached Louis Gagné told CBC Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai on Saturday.

"It's always nice to be recognized by your peers, and also by the organizers."

Gagné has been dressing up as a voyageur and helping out at the festival for 30 years. Among other duties, he's taken on performer roles in the various historical reenactments scattered throughout Festival.

In recent years he has played a role as an interpreter for school programs that come through the festival to see Gagné fire shots (blanks, of course) during a musket demonstration and learn more about the voyageur era.

"Once you have [the costume] on it's a bit like an alter-ego, a superhero, Clark Kent with his glasses" Gagné said.

"A lot of times the kids are just sitting there on hay bales watching me with their mouths open, a blank stare, and I always joke a lot of times with the teachers asking them if the students are actually this quiet in class. They're captured, it's good fun."

In past years festival organizers presented the capot to someone at the closing ceremonies, but this year they did it during the beginning of the festival.

Gagné often helps with opening ceremony set-up and was assigned a different kind of task this year. He was aware of the change and thought nothing of it.

Rather than performing crowd control duties, Gagné was asked to stand still on stage "in nice voyageur outfit" and hold a torch during the opening ceremonies.

"[The organizer] says, 'You're going to stand there with a torch. After the capot is presented to the recipient, you will give that person the torch, and they will light the fire and we will continue the ceremonies,'" Gagné recalled.

"So there I am standing in front of everybody like a candle with my torch."

That's when a historical reenactment group Gagné is a member of, called La Compagnie de La Vérendrye, came marching in, "drums blazing."

"The emcee just turned around and said, 'Congratulations Louis, it's you,'" Gagné said.

"I was speechless. And a lot of times when I am in uniform or in costume I can speak to crowds for hours, and this time I just couldn't say a word."

Festival du Voyageur wraps up Sunday.