Tuesday 9 Oct, 2012

Carnaval de Québec: A Winter Classic

Winter is the perfect time to celebrate Canadian arts, culture and history. The temperatures may be low but the spirits are high in these two great Canadian cities, with travellers from around the world visiting to get a taste of the True North during Winterlude and Carnaval de Québec. Check out the blog this Friday to find out why you should be in Ottawa for the Winterlude festival! Learn more about Winterlude and Carnaval here!

When travelling to Québec City this February, make sure you check out Carnaval, the world’s largest winter carnival. The first official Winter Carnival took place in 1955 and has become a highlight of the winter season for locals and travellers from around the world. There’s no shortage of activities to take part in at Carnaval, many of which are based on the traditional Québec lifestyle. Here are a few things you should check out while you’re there:

The Ice Palace

The first Ice Palace was built in 1955 in Jacques-Cartier Square for Bonhomme, the official representative of Carnaval. The sculpture is constructed using “bricks” made from compacted snow. From 1979 to 1994, it took approximately 9,000 tons of snow, fifteen men, and two months to create the Ice Palace each year. It’s an especially impressive site at night, when the Palace is illuminated by light displays and special effects. My favourite part about a nighttime visit to the Ice Palace is the outdoor dance parties.

Bonhomme, created in 1954, is the representative of Carnaval.
His look changes from year to year – check out his photo album here!

The Canoe Race

The Canoe Race is a legendary competition at Carnaval and has taken place since the first festival. Teams race along the St. Lawrence River, between Québec City and Lévis. Often more than 40 teams compete, fighting against a strong current, huge chunks of ice and very cold water. This is not an easy sport, so go cheer them on!

Snow Sculpture Displays

Every year, sculptors from around the world meet in Québec to participate in one of the oldest and most prestigious snow sculpture competitions in the world. Check out the Place Desjardins for Québec and Canadian sculptures. International sculptors display their work at The Plains of Abraham, which becomes a giant open-air museum. If you want to admire the work of young Québec artists, head to Zone Loto-Québec. Student teams from local schools will be exhibited there.

If you’re in town for the beginning of the competition, make sure you watch the sculptors work. Often they work throughout the night, and you’ll get to see blocks of snow come to life and become works of art.

Winter Sports

There are lots of winter sports to choose from at Carnaval, including ice fishing, skating, and a giant football game. Snow rafting is perfect for larger groups – you can hurtle down the slopes in a 12-person raft.

The giant table-soccer game is also lots of fun – it’s basically a human-sized version of a foosball table. Teams are made up of 9 players that are attached to long metal rods in rows of 3. The groups of 3 can only move sideways, but they won’t get very far if they don’t agree on which direction to go. This will get you and your group working together as a team.

Dogsled Races

This is a pretty unique activity that you may not get a chance to see anywhere else. The streets of old Québec are completely covered in snow and become a 6.5 kilometer trail for the dogsled race. The race is exciting and fast-paced, and takes place right in the middle of the city. It starts near Château Frontenac, and continues on Saint-Louis Street, Grand Allée, and the Plains of Abraham.

Night Parade

The Night Parade happens twice during the festival, on the second and third Carnaval weekends. You’ll see dance troups, marching bands, and lots of colourful Carnaval floats. Bonhomme will also be there, closing the Parade with his own special float. With around 100,000 people attending the Parade, you’ll really get to experience the festive spirit of Carnaval.

Photo via carnaval.qc.ca

Flickr photos via Jean-David & Anne-Laure, Neil and Kathy Carey, robertlafond2009