Québec Winter Carnival – The World’s Largest Winter Carnival
Welcome to Québec City – the world’s largest winter carnival is waiting for you, and you’re coming with us! We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Québec Winter Carnival, and show you everything there is to see!
The Winter Carnival takes place regularly in Québec City, the capital of Canada’s French-speaking province. Don’t worry about language barriers, though – most people here also speak English. The speeches during the opening and closing ceremonies might be in French, but apart from that, you’ll still be able to experience a great carnival. The event has been happening on a regular basis since 1955 and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
The very first Québec Winter Carnival took place as early as 1894 and lasted for almost a week. It was started by a group of businesspeople intending to brighten up the darkest season. Even back then, the city was decorated for the occasion with an ice palace and beautiful ice sculptures. Some of the festivities that are still celebrated today – like wearing decorative masks or the canoe race – had their origin back then. The carnival’s length has also stayed more or less the same; it’s just been prolonged a bit to accommodate the increased number of visitors. It runs for nine days, usually starting at the end of January or the beginning of February.
Initially, the carnival wasn’t an annual event. The second one took place two years after the first, followed by some smaller carnivals throughout the next few decades. Due to the Great Depression and World War II, however, this still fairly new tradition came to an end. The idea of a winter carnival was brought back only in the 1950s. Since then, it has grown into a real Québécois tradition. Its success is something the city can be truly proud of. In 2006, almost 1,000,000 people visited the Québec Winter Carnival, and it’s become a festival for the whole family.
The Weather at the Québec Winter Carnival
Well, it’s cold. It is winter, after all. But Québec’s fourth season is a lot colder than what you’re probably used to, so plan to dress appropriately! In this part of the country, you’ll get temperatures as low as -30 °C (-22 °F) with lots of snow. So be sure to pack your thickest winter jacket, a warm hat as well as warm shoes and gloves.
The Québec Winter Carnival
The Québec Winter Carnival offers numerous activities, attractions and treats, so you won’t get bored easily! Day or night, there’s always something happening here. The carnival’s snowman-like mascot, Bonhomme, leads the parades through the city; they are truly a sight to behold! Designed and decorated with loving attention to detail, the parade floats are accompanied by a multitude of lights and ice sculptures, creating a real winter wonderland. If you meet the endearing Bonhomme, make sure to ask him for a souvenir photo – he’s always happy to oblige.
Ice Sculpture Exhibit
There is an annual competition of impressive ice sculptures where both local and international artists get to display their talent. It takes place in the Plains of Abraham, a public park that is the central point of the Québec Winter Carnival. While strolling through it, you’ll come across some incredible ice artworks and witness the time and attention to detail that went into creating them. Often, there are up to 100 different sculptures on display.
Another highlight of the Québec Winter Carnival is the masquerade ball, with up to 400 participants. An old hotel called Château Frontenac, situated in the historic part of Québec City, serves as the backdrop for the ball. The only sight that is perhaps more spectacular is the ice palace opposite the parliament building. It’s also the site of the carnival’s opening and closing ceremonies, which Bonhomme, the palace’s Lord, as well as the city’s mayor will attend. The palace looks different every year, but it is always absolutely stunning. What’s more, the palace offers outdoor dance parties, which will definitely lift your spirits and warm you up.
If that’s not enough exercise for you, how about a canoe race or another outdoor sporting event? You get the choice between various winter sports: snowboarding, ice canoeing on Lake St. Lawrence, ice hockey, a sleigh ride with horses and much more are on offer here.
Ice skating in particular is one of the most popular activities at the Québec Winter Carnival. At the centre of the historical part of Québec City, at Place D’Youville, you’ll find a large ice rink, where you can show off your skating skills. In any case, Québec’s Old City is definitely worth a visit as well – it’s not a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nothing. French is not only the local language, but the beautiful architecture also speaks volumes about the French colonial era’s legacy.
Even if you don’t necessarily want to warm up, and you prefer extreme experiences, the carnival still has just the right thing for you. Every year, you’ll find a few daredevils that take part in the traditional snow bath and dance in the freezing cold with nothing on but their swimwear.
Food and Drink
But there’s also an alternative way of warming up, especially for those of you who aren’t really into sports: a drink called Caribou. It’s a traditional drink consisting of a spirit (usually rye whiskey), red wine and maple syrup or sugar. Delicious and warming – the perfect combination! And, of course, there is something for all palates – many restaurants have fixed menus and prices for the Québec Winter Carnival season. But there are also several free outdoor banquets that provide breakfast and brunch.
The Québec Winter Carnival is a unique experience that combines Québécois culture with the exuberance of a carnival. It makes full use of Canada’s cold climate and snowy weather with a wide variety of winter sports, a lot of dancing, and beautiful ice sculptures. And there’s no lack of ways to warm up either – a delicious Caribou or just hot chocolate and lots of exercise will make you forget about the freezing temperatures pretty quickly. So, don’t forget your cosiest socks, and then head to Québec City for the world’s largest winter carnival!