by Judy M. Zimmerman
In February, the snow-covered streets of Quebec City explode with a festive party spirit. People from all over the world gather for Winter Carnival, the world’s biggest winter celebration of its kind, and the third largest carnival, after the famous carnivals of Rio and New Orleans. As the locals say, “It’s samba dressed up in a flannel shirt!”
For 10 days, the World’s Snow Capital is filled with music, dancing, and a dazzling array of world-class sporting, artistic and cultural activities as everyone re-discovers the wonders of winter.
Since the beginning of the French colony, the habitants formed a rowdy tradition of
getting together just before Lent to eat, drink, and be merry. Then in 1954, the
enchanting Bonhomme was born to become the King of the Winter Carnival who
reigns over all the activities. He moves and dances, expressing his feelings through
unique movements that are surrounded by an air of mystery.
Now, Bonhomme’s grandiose illuminated castle is in front of Quebec’s Parliament buildings, along with giant ice sculptures, dogsled races, and all sorts of games and activities for children. Cross-country skiing is another huge attraction. Skiers throng to the city for the region’s variety of top quality trails. The Cross-Country Ski Classic also takes place on the Plains of Abraham Park, a favorite place for families to toboggan and snowshoe. Downhill ski runs are nearby, including the largest lighted ski area in Canada, only minutes from the capital.
Snowmobiling has become so popular that Quebec has created an extensive network of trails to satisfy family outings or committed explorers. Afterwards, “Caribou”, a feisty alcoholic beverage since the first carnival, will warm you up. It’s a mixture of brandy, vodka, sherry and port. Wow!
But Carnival’s main attractions are in the heart of old Quebec City: two magical night parades with floats heralded by the traditional music of the long red trumpets, fireworks, skating at the outdoor rink, and the famous toboggan slide beside the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
The lively city center of winding streets and quaint town squares is known for its European charm and unique architectural beauty. Fascinating boutiques, galleries, pubs and cafes line the streets in the old walled city, horse-drawn sleighs clickety-clack past stately old homes, musicians serenade passers-by, and strollers stop for a view of the St. Lawrence River from the cliffside boardwalk.
For a truly unique cultural evening, climb aboard a horse-drawn sleigh ride for a ride through the moonlit woods to a “sugar shack”, a cabin in a maple grove where sap is slowly boiled in big vats until it turns an enticing liquid gold. The maple sugar is then served up on everything from sausage and eggs to heaping helpings of crepes.
At the cabin, you can dance it off with a country jig or two to fiddle toe-tapping tunes. Bundled under the wagon’s warm blankets, you’ll enjoy singing French folk songs. If you don’t speak French, it doesn’t matter. Everyone seems to improve with each chorus.
On the last day of Carnival, the boardwalk is crowded with revelers who come to watch the ice canoers cross the St. Lawrence. The traditional cuisine of French Canada will fortify you for this and the many other activities.
If you’ve never been to Carnival, you must go. Join the parade and feel the magic of this celebration in Quebec, the coolest winter destination anywhere.
Quebec Winter Carnival www.carnaval.qc.ca
Quebec City and Region www.quebecregion.com