The Quebec Winter Carnival is a magical winter wonderland. The largest winter carnival in the world is a Quebecois tradition since 1955. The celebrations last over a month during the coldest months of the year. People in Quebec have showed me that a bitterly cold polar vortex is no excuse to not have fun outdoors.
The activities are designed to make the most of the chilly snowy days. It’s a family celebration. The adults enjoy the opportunity to play outside as much as the children. The activities include winter sports such as hockey, ice skating, snowshoeing, and snowboard. There are also the snow sculpture competition, canoe races, zip-lining, ice sliding and dogsleding. All activities are free except for the dogsleding. I felt like a child again playing in that huge playground of snow.
Most activities take place at the Plains of Abraham but there are events in other parts of the city center. Some are really funny like the Giant Human Bowling. People wait in line to roll downhill inside a giant transparent plastic ball while trying to hit the pins.
The symbol of the Quebec Winter Carnival is a charismatic snowman called Bonhomme. As ambassador of the carnival he receives the keys to the city from the Mayor of Quebec at the beginning of the carnival. This joyful fellow is requested at many events during the carnival. He is disputed for photos whenever he makes an appearance. I was lucky enough to take a picture with him.
Every day there’s something new happening. If you are brave enough to face the cold wearing only a swimsuit you should join Bonhomme in the snow bath. In his company a small group of people engage in a snowball fight, make snow angels and jump around. All that while they are being watched and photographed by a large audience. That’s scary!
The Beaver Tails are found all over Canada. In Québec it’s called Queues de Castor. These sweet treats come in the shape of a beaver tail with all sorts of sugary topping. It’s delicious! I found it hard to eat with my huge ski gloves without making a mess. I had to take one of my gloves off but my fingers were immediately frozen. Afterwards I had to warm my numb fingers by the fire.
The only indoor heated place in the carnival site was the club house pavilion. Whenever I felt too cold I would go there to warm myself. Inside there are restrooms, snacks, drinks and souvenirs. Big wooden tables accommodate everyone. Food stalls sell hot chocolate, coffee, soup and poutine to warm your belly.
At night the Bonhomme Ice Palace looks beautiful illuminated with colorful lights. Inside the ice palace the rooms are decorated with a different theme every year. This year the arrow sash was chosen as the theme. Outside, people gather to dance at the sound of the DJ. I bet the DJ never saw such cheerful crowd. No matter the song he played people were jumping up and down. It wasn’t because they loved the music though. It was a matter of staying warm!
The Upper Town Night Parade takes place in the last night of the festival. It was the coldest night with temperatures bellow -30 °C. I wore my warmest clothes and happily joined the crowd to wait for the parade. The cold didn’t stop everyone to have a good time. The parade lasted about an hour. I took as many photos as my fingers allowed. By the end they hurt so much that seemed that they had been hit with a hammer. I protected my face the best I could but I could not feel my nose and my cheeks. I decided to buy a balaclava on the next day.
In the next morning the Bonhomme come to the Ice Palace for the closing ceremony where he gives back the city key to the Major and say goodbye.
The passport to the Quebec Winter Carnival is called Effigy. The Effigy is a cute miniature pendant that you wear on your outerwear. Wearing of the Effigy is obligatory to gain access to the festival sites, for visitors 8 years of age and over. It cost $15 and give you access to all festival sites.
The Effigy comes with discount coupons for souvenir stores, restaurants, pubs and tourist attractions. In most places you don’t need to have your coupons in hand, you just need to show the Effigy.
Also published on Medium.