Every year from the end of January to the middle of February Quebec City‘s Winter Carnival entertains the city with night parades, dance parties, competitions, and a variety of shows. 2009 marks the carnival’s 55th anniversary. Every year the Carnival has a new theme so each year is a little different, which keeps people coming back for more. Carnaval de Québec typically starts on the last Friday of January or the first Friday of February and lasts for 17 days. Close to one million people participate in this event, making it the largest winter celebration in the world.
First begun in 1894 as a continuation of the traditional Mardi Gras festivities in Quebec City, the festival has had a few off years, specifically during the World Wars and the Great Depression. The Carnaval’s style has drastically changed over the past several decades, now including cultural events, participatory sports, and traditional spectator sports. Try to spot Bonhomme (“good man”) meandering through the crowds. He is the official ambassador of the festivities- a large snowman sporting a red cap, black buttons, and a ceinture fléchée.
- Witness the opening and closing ceremonies at the Ice Palace.
- Bring your appetite to the Calgary Stampede Flap Jack Breakfast.
- Participate or watch the giant table soccer game.
- Participate in the public auction, a fund raising event in aid of the Carnival. This auction features many goods and services donated by area companies and professional firms.
- Go to one of the outdoor dance parties.
- Take part in the Restaurant Partners Campaign. This is a 17-day promotion during which Quebec City restaurants offer customers a special menu for a fixed price throughout the Carnival (including appetizer, soup or salad, a main course, and a dessert).
- Watch a sleigh race where drivers and their horses will take part in single and double-harness races.
- Watch the Dog Agility Competition on Snow where around 60 people and their dogs compete in an outdoor obstacle course.
- Have fun on the Plains of Abraham, which are transformed into an outdoor winter amusement park which includes:
- ‘Dog Sledding
- Snow slides
- Downhill skiing
- Ice tower
- Ice Slide (This is our child’s favorite)
- Ice skating
- Snow rafting
- Dogsled races
- Snow sculptures
- Alpine skiing
- Soapbox derby
- Visit the International Snow Sculpture Show, where hundreds of artists from around the world gather each year to take part in the art of snow sculpting.
- Watch (or participate in) the Snow Bath! Wearing only a swimsuit, and creative ones at that, the 75 participants gather on the Plains of Abraham in front of TV cameras and curious onlookers to bath in the snow and frigid temperatures!
- Take a sleigh ride around the city and take in the spectacular views graced in elegant white drifts.
- Tour the Ice Palace across from the Quebec Parliament building and visit again at night when it is lit with an array of lights.
- Watch the nightly parade through the streets of Quebec City, which features beautiful floats, superb bands, and hilarious clowns.
- Don a mask and make a stop at one of the many elaborate masquerade balls.
- Don’t miss the legendary Canoe Race, which has been held every year the carnival has operated. Teams compete in an intense race along the Saint Lawrence River
- While at the Carnaval, try to spot one of these traditions from the festival:
- The ceinture fléchée, or arrowhead sash. It’s a colored, plaited sash worn by many carnival-goers and the Bonhomme. It recalls the sash worn by Quebec’s inhabitants who pursued an American Indian tradition during the previous centuries. It was worn by lumberjacks and peasants to tie their coats at the waist to keep the cold from creeping in and to support the kidney during physical work.
- The long, red Carnival Trumpets. These make the loud noise you’ll hear everywhere
- The Caribou. This is an alcoholic beverage that became popular in the early Carnivals A typical caribou contains Coke, Sprite, Sherry, and Port.
As the largest winter carnival in the world, participants and visitors flock from the four corners of the world to be here each year. Hotel rooms fill up quickly, so be sure to lock in your reservation before it is too late!
Visit the Winter Carnival’s official website for up-to-date information!