Experiencing (Ridiculous) Canadian Magic: A Guide to Quebec City’s Winter Carnival

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A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #CarnivalTo innocent onlookers, Canada often takes on this magical aura of a snowy wonderland, where maple scented streets are filled with children shuffling around in neon-coloured onesies… where parents lovingly look on and sip hot double doubles, all while secretly checking hockey scores on their phones. And while often, I dispute such stereotypes with the fury of a hockey-crazed moose, I know there is a time and place where all Canadian stereotypes go to thrive, and it’s called the Quebec Winter Carnival.

I’m talking maple syrup flowing like champagne, canoe races in icy rivers, freezing snow baths, entire castles made of ice, and of course: a permanently smiling snowman mascot known as Bonhomme (which translates to “Good Man”).

Growing up attending a French school on the west coast of Canada (as far as possible from the actual festival site), every January of mine for 10 years was highlighted by the start day of Carnival. I’d put on my fluffiest coat, head outside my school and wait anxiously for Bonhomme to arrive on a bright red firetruck.

… So okay, so maybe my school took some artistic liberty in adapting the traditions, but it was a big deal to me, okay?

Fast forward 10 years later, I was finally able to make my Carnival dreams come true, visiting the actual festivities in January 2014. I never wrote about it until now. What’s that aboot, eh?

Well, better late than never. Armed with the most recent info (and some glitzy throwback pics), here is a 2018 guide to experiencing the oh so famous Quebec Winter Carnival, or if you wanna get Frenchy – the Carnaval de Québec.

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival



 

The Québec Winter Carnival: A Brief History

Widely recognized as one of the world’s largest winter festivals, the Québec Winter Carnival, or Carnaval de Québec, is an annual tradition that brings thousands of visitors together for French Canadian festivities.

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The first Quebec Winter Carnival was held in 1894. How did it all start? Well, supposedly, the festivities were inspired by the harsh winters of the area, with residents turning to creating fun celebrations to “warm their hearts during the cold season”. Held on and off for several years, the modern iteration of Carnival began in 1955 (alongside the introduction of Bonhomme!) It has since become one of the biggest events of the year in French Canada.

So, you see, Carnival is a pretty big deal.

When I had the chance to visit Québec during my university Reading Break, my childhood self was shaking in her parka. Sure, I’m overly excitable on the worst of days (I blame it on the maple syrup running through my veins), but this was next-level. Keep in mind, every Carnival period of my childhood (from Kindergarten to the end of high school) was spent playing Francophone games, belting out Quebecois folk songs and doing folk dances where I had to touch the hands of actual human boys (a groundbreaking development). I had been training for half my life to see this event!

My first shocker… just a PSA for you all: Bonhomme talks. He has a voice. Pictured below was the exact moment I realized this guy had a human voice. Growing up, Bonhomme never spoke (probably because they never wanted to give away who was in the suit). Suffice to say, I was shooketh.

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival

One of the many stages they have set up during the event



Where is the Quebec Winter Carnival celebrated?

Carnaval is a festival with various activities and events sprawled out across Québec City. The majority of activities are clustered in the main Festival site near Old Québec, but there are also separate events like balls, brunches and more that occur in various locations around town. During the festival period, the entire city is also decked out in pretty lights and ice sculptures, so there’s plenty of beauty to drool over.

Taken from the official website’s FAQ, here are the locations and opening times for Carnaval’s various festival sights:

Loto-Québec Zone

Friday January 26, 2018: 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Monday to Thursday: noon to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday February 11, 2018: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Jos’ Camp Presented by Videotron

Friday January 26, 2018: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Monday to Thursday: noon to 6 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday February 11, 2018: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Bonhomme’s World Presented by Hydro-Québec

Friday January 26, 2018: closed
Monday to Thursday: noon to 5 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday February 11, 2018: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Grande Allée

Friday January 26, 2018: 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Monday to Thursday: noon to 6 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday February 11, 2018: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Place George-V

Open at all times from Friday January 26, 2018 at noon to Sunday February 11, 2018 at 4 p.m.

And here is a map of all the festival sites for 2018.

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival



How much does it cost to attend the Quebec Winter Carnival?

To enter the festival site, you have to purchase an effigy ($15), which is a cute lil (but very mandatory) trinket that you wear as proof that you paid the admission fee. The good news is, buying the effigy once gets you access to the festival site for the entire two weeks, plus it’s usually some kinda cute thing with Bonhomme involved, sooo… best souvenir ever. Fact: I still have my effigy on this bright red parka of mine, even 4 years later.

You can purchase the effigy in-person (or online, but online sales have now closed for 2018).

Carnaval Quebec Bonhomme Effigy 2014 by Christina Guan

The effigy from the 2014 Quebec Winter Carnival



What to do the Carnaval de Québec

With axe throwing and a mechanical moose involved, the better question might be “what isn’t there to do”

I can’t lie to you, I drooled a little bit while reading the events/program list for 2018. Maybe it’s me feeling homesick, maybe I just wish I could go back, but mmgh guys – there’s SO much to do this year. So much absurdly wonderful Canadian things. Here are some to put on your list.



Meet Bonhomme himself

While roaming the site, keep your eyes peeled for festival mascot Bonhomme, a walking, talking snowman known for his trademark grin, sash and toque. Interestingly, I learned that there’s only one Bonhomme throughout the whole festival, which means spotting him can be rare. If you’re keen on getting a photo with him at some point, consult the festival schedule to see where he’ll be throughout the day.

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival

Can you see the absurd joy on my face? And this was just a statue!



Visit Bonhomme’s ice palace (no joke)

Obviously Bonhomme is a snowman who lives in style.

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So duh, he lives in an ice palace right across from the parliament building.

You can find his palace in the Loto-Québec Zone. For 2018, Bonhomme’s sweet digs also feature graffiti from talented muralists, so don’t miss this one. Visiting Bonhomme’s palace was definitely a highlight of Carnaval for me back when I visited. No surprise, it’s made of ice, and is fully furnished.

My favourite part was Bonhomme’s hefty photo collection with famous people… including Mickey Mouse!

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival


Enjoy some delicious maple taffy

Your true Canadian experience isn’t complete without a sweet taste of maple taffy, tire d’erable.

People always think I’m joking when I tell them this, but no, I’m for real… Canadians actually eat boiled maple sap poured on snow. We call it maple taffy, and it’s actually a really cool experience because when it touches the snow, the sap instantly becomes a delicious soft candy that you can pick up with a popsicle stick or fork. Irresistible.

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival

Beaming as I wait for my maple sap to harden. That very sad man in the background is what makes this one of my favourite travel photos (to date)



Watch the lumberjack challenge

Taking place on February 3rd, the Lumberjack Challenge is advertised as a modern day triathlon. This ridiculously Canadian challenge is comprised of the three following parts:

  1. Log throwing  (a test of strength)
    2. Beer keg bowling with log pins (a test of precision)
    3. Syrup cane holding at arms’ length (a test of endurance)

Oh Canada.

If you like red plaid and burley dudes, this might be your go-to activity of the winter. Here’s more info.


Catch the ice canoe races

One of the most iconic events of the entire Carnival period, and probably one of the most Canadian things ever. Apparently this is a tradition that has taken place since Carnaval’s first edition, and involves a lot of super strong athletes racing through a river studded with giant chunks of ice. It’s a little Titanic for my liking, but nonetheless one of the must-see events of the festival!

In 2018, the annual Carnival canoe race will take place on Febraury 4 on the St Lawrence River.



Admire the incredible snow sculptures

If you want to be seriously mind blown, be sure to check out the mammouth snow sculptures that are part of the International Snow Sculpture Contest, which draws in entrants from around the world. This is a “no effigy required” event, so you can stop by even without paying the entrance fee!

Be prepared to feel woefully inadequate. These guys can make epic things out of SNOW and I’m here like, struggling to draw a triangle.

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A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival


Scope out a night parade

In 2018, there will be two night parades: the Charlesbourg Night Parade on February 3 and the Upper Town Night Parade on February 10. While I never got to see one of these for myself, I’ve heard from multiple people that these things are larger than life, with tons of cool lit-up floats and a contagious buzz in the air. Don’t miss them!


Get your swimmers on and take a snow bath

On February 10th, Canada’s boldest and most insane will brave the freezing temperatures to take snow baths in their swimsuits. Don’t worry, a mandatory warm-up is included…. and so is an eyeful of many half-naked people, if that sweetens the deal…


Watch in fear as they crown Canada’s Strongest Viking

2018 is the FIRST year that they’re hosting a competition like this, so if you’re keen to watch giant dudes lift giant things, you’ll want to add this to your list. The competition will take place on February 11, and will feature five top Canadian athletes who will participate in classic Viking-inspired feats of strength (w/ a Canadian twist, of course).

Will they have to pull sleighs? According to the program, apparently yes!


Enjoy some impossibly Canadian festivities

Curling, ice slides, tobogganing, basically a laundry list of all the Canadian things you assume we don’t actually do…..

Guys, you can do them at Carnival.

One of the funniest things I saw in the roundup was a life-sized human foosball game. They literally attach you to a pole in groups of three and kick a little ball around. Here is proof I am not joking. Canada, what even are you? 

A full guide to attending the Quebec Winter Carnival, one of the largest winter festivals in the world. If you're planning to travel to #Canada, don't miss this amazing opportunity. #Travel #CanadaTravel #Carnival


… and a whole lot more!

Last but not least, there’s a variety of other events taking place throughout the Carnival period. These include parades, balls, special meals and more. Be sure to check the Carnaval website for a detailed list of what will be happening and when.

So tell me, have you ever been to Carnavale de Québec? If so, what was your favourite part?



I hope you enjoyed that guide to Quebec’s Carnival celebrations! Feel free to ask if you have any questions 🙂

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