Snow palace (1988) at the Québec Winter Carnival (courtesy Carnaval de Québec Inc).

Québec City became my “home” after I left my parents’ house, and even though I don’t live there anymore, I still consider it as such. This French-speaking city of just over half a million people feels like a big village bustling with activity. Among all the events that take place there, one of the most important is no doubt the Québec Winter Carnival. Since 1894, this winter celebration warms and cheers Quebecers during the peak of the cold (and sometimes grey) season. I only recently became aware that the carnival originated from an ancient tradition carried out by the people of New France, who feasted from late January to mid-February (this is when the carnival is held), before the beginning of Lent – you’ve got to have joy in stock for hard times!


“Le Bonhomme” at the Québec Winter Carnival (courtesy Carnaval de Québec Inc).

The Carnival, the biggest winter festival in the world, is an opportunity for all to return to childhood. Put on your winter suit, big boots, tuque and mittens – it’s time to go play outside! The Plains of Abraham and the enchanting Old City are the scenes of the activities. Normally at this time of the year, the snow covers the landscape, the cold is biting and, if we’re lucky, the sun brightens everything up. On the Plains of Abraham, many activities take place in a festive atmosphere; these include sleigh riding, tube sliding, eating yummy maple taffy poured onto snow, and listening to musicians play a jig through the large window of a small cabin that protects them from the cold and snow. There are also artists from around the world carving magnificent sculptures in large snow blocks, and many other competitions, such as horse, canoe and ski races. There are even several teams braving the cold while taking a snow bath!

Everywhere you look there are people all wrapped up, bearing the effigy of the Carnival and participating in the tradition of wearing red clothes and/or the traditional Carnival belt. Many are filling the air with the sound of their red trumpet. There are also those who get in the spirit of the festival while drinking “caribou” from a red cane they carry with them. Caribou is the typical Carnival’s drink made of brandy, vodka, sherry and port. There’s nothing to do about it – Quebecers know how to party, day and night! Of course, the restaurants and bars of the area are full of people who take a break to get warm and fill their bellies. The Old City is more vibrant than ever.

One of the main attractions is, of course, the Ice Palace. Built with 6,000 sculpted ice blocks, this construction with turrets, a drawbridge and a scene for a sound and light show is absolutely enchanting, especially with the lighting at night. The Palace is the home of Bonhomme Carnival, a replica of a snowman, which is the festival’s mascot. His companions, the Knucks, clown around to amuse the crowd. Of course, there is also the night parade that must not be missed: dozens of magical enchanting allegorical floats delight thousands of spectators.

Young or old, in the company of friends or relatives, the Carnival is a truly fabulous experience, which reconciles people with winter and makes them appreciate it even more. To all those who will be there this year: Happy Carnival!


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  2. Laura Bonikowsky

    Merveilleux, Mélanie! It could almost make me lose my aversion to winter!


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About Mélanie Fafard

Mélanie Fafard is a Québécoise with an MA in archaeology and a PhD in anthropology from the University of Alberta, Edmonton. Throughout her fieldwork, she worked with the Gwich’in of the Yukon and NWT to document their perspective on heritage and heritage places and submit some places for provincial and national historic designation. For the past six years, Mélanie has been a subject editor for The Canadian Encyclopedia, responsible for the archaeology, anthropology, agriculture and forestry subject areas. A passionate of travel, languages and cultures, over these years she also visited several countries, including Egypt, Cameroon, Congo, Australia, Spain, Cambodia, Lao and Thailand. Mélanie Fafard est une québécoise ayant obtenu une maîtrise en archéologie et un doctorat en anthropologie à l’Université de l’Alberta, Edmonton. Son travail de terrain l’a amenée à travailler avec les Gwich’in du Yukon et des Territoires du Nord-Ouest afin de documenter leur perspective sur le patrimoine et les lieux culturels et de nominer certains endroits pour désignation en tant que lieux historiques provinciaux et nationaux. Depuis six ans, Mélanie travaille comme éditrice spécialisée pour l’Encyclopédie canadienne; elle est responsable des articles reliés à l’archéologie, l’anthropologie, l’agriculture et la foresterie. Une passionnée des voyages, des langues et des cultures, à travers ces années elle a aussi visité différents pays, dont l’Égypte, le Cameroun, le Congo, l’Australie, l’Espagne, le Cambodge, le Laos et la Thaïlande.




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