If you are planning to visit Quebec City and you want to have a great experience of local activity, then you should come to visit us in February. Oh yes, that’s probably the best month to experience the intensity of the winter time in Quebec but it’s also the best time to see the ‘Québécois’ (people who live in Quebec City refer to themselves as Québécois) having so much fun outside.
The Quebec City Carnival started in 1894. The winters were long and hard and the Québécois wanted to have fun, to meet up and especially to warm up their heart.They started a festival of snow that slowly transformed into a carnival in 1954. Even if the Winter Carnival was disrupted by the first and the second World War, and the economic crisis in 1929, the COVID19 won’t have this privilege to stop it this year.
The planning will be different but also incredible! The imagination of the Carnival Team and of course indisputably, the imagination of the Bonhomme Carnaval will warm up our heart.
Bonhomme Carnival ???
Yes, yes, when you walk around, you will see his sculptures and statues everywhere in the town. In reality, you won’t miss it as he is 7 feet (213 cm) tall, 400 lb (181 kg) packed snow, he is originally from Quebec City and he was born in 1954. Despite his 67 years he is still in great shape. You’ll see him dancing with his red hat on his head and with his arrow sash at his waist. He represents perfectly his people who have the joy of living and happiness. He is the undisputed master of celebrations and he is in fact the King of the Carnaval. After the mayor of Quebec City gives him the key to the town, the festivities will start immediately.
To fully experience the Winter Carnival, you have to understand its traditions. You can wear a red tuque ( winter hat for the Québecois) but the quintessential element is the arrow sash, without forgetting the effigy of Bonhomme which will be your pass for the activities and of course the carnival songs and his little drink, the Caribou … With all these elements you’ll be in a festive mood of the town.
The arrow sash
The arrow sash was a part of the French-Canadien Québécois traditional costume since the 18th century. It’s directly and historically associated with the fur traders ( Coureur des Bois).The traditional belt is waived by hand and worn by the men traditionally and they used it to tighten coats around the waist to keep them warm while they went hunting. This belt varies in width between 6 inches to 10 inches (15 and 25 cm) but it could easily exceed 6,5 feet (2 m) in length. The craftsman who makes it is called a ‘flécheur’ or ‘flécherand’ due to its weaving technique with its arrow or lightning patterns (zigzags). At the end of the belt the threads will be twisted. (it takes up to 500 hours of finger weaving work to make it).
Bonhomme Carnival’s effigy
An important element to participate in the festival, it’s your pass for the activities but especially a pride to wear it. You can collect them because they are different each year.
It is also through its sale that we are financing this Carnival.
This is the favourite drink of the ‘carnival-goers’. Legend says that it is the colors of the wood that are the source of this cocktail. Apparently this small drink consisted of mixing caribou blood with alcohol which at that time was difficult to digest.
Don’t worry, we have refined ourselves since then. The Quebec Winter Carnival served to revisit this little drink, and obviously and very fortunately the blood of caribou was changed to red wine.
We give you the recipe, in case you feel festive one evening so you can make the traditional Caribou of the Quebec Winter Carnival at the comfort of your home.
Caribou of the Winter Carnival - Recipe
For 10 people
90ml (3 oz) vodka
90ml (3 oz) brandy
375 ml (1 and ½ cup) sherry
375 ml (1 and ½ cup) porto wine
In a saucepan, heat all the ingredients over medium-low heat. Bring to a boil, then serve immediately in the cups.
Enjoy! Or as we say it here in Quebec : Santé!
The Carnival Trumpet
As you walk around Quebec City, you will hear the heavy and cavernous sound of the trumpets of the Carnival. Each and everyone can have a trumpet and play it as they will. This sound will make everyone smile as it’s a sign that we are having a great time. Moreover, you’ll see some people walking around with a red walking stick with an effigy of the Bonhomme. At the moment, they don’t need it to walk but later on, maybe at night time it’ll be very useful. In fact, the walking stick is used to transport your alcoholic drink, your ‘booze’ that will warm up your spirit.
Did you know that the Carnival trumpet can produce up to 114 decibels?
The night parades always presented the 2 Saturday evenings of the Carnival, everybody meets up along the route of the Upper Town so they can be amazed by the different sequence where the artists will do their best to offer us a show to entertain us. It’s really something to see!
Le Camps à Jos
Do you want to party? Then you are in the right place! Le Camps à Jos will immerse you in a vintage universe with its atmosphere focused on pleasure, Quebec atmosphere and traditions. Stop at the La Coulée bar, look at that giant tree upside down, order and taste a Caribou or a hot Carnival grog (the gin is a part of the Quebec people’s great pleasure and we’ll talk about it in a different blog) and continue the party. Also, you can practice your ax throwing skills, certainly see a winter wrestling gala or musical performances, and play boot hockey with friends. You will definitely find one of the most festive meeting points in town.
Ice Canoe Race
It’s probably one of the most impressive events of the Carnival, this traditional race takes place on the frozen St-Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis since 1955. However, this race originates from even before the Carnival. The ice canoe is an essential element of the everyday life of the islanders and residents of the St. Lawrence River. It was the only way of transport and communication between the two shores. Today it’s considered as an extreme sport, the ice canoe race attracts the biggest Carnival crowds. Come and see the teams boarding their large canoes, competing with each other on a 2 miles ( 3,2 km) ‘round-trip’ between Quebec City and Lévis. This ordeal is not easy, the participants have to react with agility, endurance and prudence. If the river is in open water and the sky is blue on a perfect day, it will be easier but if the weather conditions are bad, in stormy weather then they will have to pull their canoe on the ice, paddle and avoid to be taken by the ice or the current. Yes, ice canoe racing is an extreme sport! But don’t miss to come and encourage these brave athletes.
If you are bold enough during the Carnival, put on your bathing suit and join us who are brave enough to take a snow bath. Oh yes, the ideal temperature for this bath is around -20 °C. After a little group training to warm up your muscles and your cardio, we will dive into the snow for a little swim in the company of your new friends of the moment . By the way there is no sauna to warm you up. What a pleasure and a lifetime experience that you can do with the Quebecois!
Well, once you warmed up, go and check out the Snow Sculptures. Each year, the Quebec Winter Carnival organises the international competition, it’s an opportunity to see the beautiful work of the artist here and there, they really impress us! The gigantic sculptures that can be sometimes 20 feet (6 m) tall, are probably the most impressive attractions of the carnival. The sculptures are originals and directly taken from the imagination and ingenuity of their artists. It’s a must see.
Speaking of sculptures, when we speak about the King of the Carnaval, we also speak about his ice Palace. Bonhomme adores when the people are visiting it. Bonhomme’s Palace was created in 1955, and his impressive ice castle was built in front of the Assemblée Nationale du Québec because Bonhomme had to stay somewhere during the Carnival. So every year a Palace is built for him that defies all imagination. Year after year Bonhomme’s Palace will dazzle you because it’s different each time. For the construction of this palace, they use more than 2000 blocks of ice each of them is about 300 lb (136 kg) and it’s carved by the artists of Bonhomme’s team. Don’t hesitate to visit it!
Current Situation - 2021
This year is a bit different but Bonhomme has decided that the Carnival will be there to warm up our hearts in these difficult times of the pandemic. Pleasure and wonder will be there too. Bonhomme and his team have displayed superb sculptures and monuments of ice throughout the city. 20 ft (6 m) tall ice towers were built at various sites in the city. They are surrounded by ice sculptures that will definitely dazzle the walkers. Moreover, this year, the program of the carnival will be disponible on YouTube, free of charge, for the great pleasure of ‘Carnival-goers’ but also for people who dream about coming to Quebec City and living this experience.
For our part, we’re going to roam the streets of the city for you, and take photos and videos of our routes so that you can enjoy the snow and ice sculptures via Social Media. From now until your visit to Quebec City, you will be able to see how wonderful winter is in Quebec City, especially in February.