Everyone loves a good festival but if the only festivals you’re thinking of are in the heat of the summer then let me tell you, you’re missing out! The wonders of winter have been celebrated at festivals all over the world for centuries and Quebec City’s very own Carnaval certainly makes the list of best winter parties around.
The first large scale Carnaval de Quebec took place in 1894, that’s over a hundred years of history! The Carnaval (French for “carnival” if you hadn’t guessed) was used to warm the hearts of a population riddled with harsh winters. Though occasionally interrupted by events such as the world wars and the great depression, Carnaval has been a staple of Quebecois and Canadian culture for the better part of the country’s 150 year history.
Maybe you know a thing or two about this winter wonderland that happens every January/February; from the maple taffy poured over fresh snow, to the snow and ice sculpture competitions, to its infamous party culture but there are many more wonderful things about Carnaval that make it so unique. Here are 5 fun facts about Carnaval de Quebec.
5 Fun Facts About Carnaval de Quebec
1 – Bonhomme
There are few more iconic Quebecois symbols than the official representative of Carnaval, Bonhomme! This smiling snowman proudly wears a red tuque and arrow sash and is the living representation of the Quebecois’ joie de vivre. With his first appearance in 1954, Bonhomme is often referred to as the King of the festivities. Every year on the opening night of Carnaval, the mayor of Quebec City gives Bonhomme the Key to the City, that’s just how important he is!
As you stroll through the festival, keep an eye out for Bonhomme, because you won’t find him in two places at once! Not that he’s too hard to spot, he’s 7 feet tall and apparently weighs 400 pounds (all compacted snow of course). He certainly is a one of a kind representative and ambassador for the carnival so if you run into him, be sure to say “bonjour!
2 – The Duchesses
Speaking of ambassadors, the Duchesses are second only to Bonhomme when it comes to spreading Carnaval spirit! Visitors may not be familiar with this local tradition but the concept is simple: each borough (or Duchy) of the city names a duchess, then each duchess sets out to sell the highest amount of tickets to their Duchy. The duchess to sell the most tickets out of all the Duchies is named the Queen of the Carnaval.
In recent years, the act of charity has come into play as duchesses become spokeswomen for a cause and an organization of their choice in the Quebec City area. It’s a way for them to give back to the community that has supported the Carnaval through the decades. They are also spokeswomen for the carnival on a global scale as they accompany Bonhomme to Carnaval de Paris every fall.
3 – The Ice Palace
You might be wondering, where do all the Carnaval royalty reside, exactly? Well, the Ice Palace of course! As the centre piece of the festival, the Ice Palace has moved from one corner of the city to the next as the years have passed but one thing remains the same, it is truly a palace! Made mostly of snow and ice, and often times big enough to walk through, it’s not a sight to be missed.
Every year has provided a different design and look for the palace from traditional European castle to modern looking spires of ice. In 2017, for the first time, the festival introduced a digital interactive experience to the palace called Odyss. Designed in collaboration with local architecture students, visitors were able to play with interactive games while travelling through the towering ice walls that were projected with lights and lasers. With the popularity it garnered, it certainly won’t be the last year we see this!
This year it took 1800 blocks of ice to build Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, each of which was 300 pounds. It took 11 workers 14 days to build it all, from its foundation, up to its tallest point 47 feet high. Besides the technical equipment, the palace was built solely with ice with only water between the blocks to freeze them together.
4 – Canoe Racing
Believe it or not, Carnaval is not all fun and games… there’s competition too! Of course there are tests of creativity and patience in the ice and snow sculpting but if you’re looking for something a little more fast-paced and intense then look no further than the large scale ice canoe race. More than 40 teams brave the numbingly cold, ice filled waters of the Saint Lawrence River for glory.
Running across the ice and paddling through the water, this race is not for the faint of heart and most teams are professionals in the discipline! It’s said that the race originated in the earliest pioneer times in Quebec, when living essentials like food and medicine needed to be transported across the river during the winter freeze-up. Now that we have more modern ways of transporting our knick-knacks, big and small, the sport remains an entertaining event for new and seasoned Carnaval goers.
5 – It’s not a ticket, it’s an Effigy!
Unless you’re Bonhomme himself, it’s not likely you’ll see much of Carnaval de Quebec without an Effigy hanging somewhere off your coat or bag. This little pendant (made and packaged in Quebec, of course) is your pass into most festival areas and is meant to be tied onto your person where it’s visible to all.
Just like the Ice Palace, its design changes annually but of course, one thing remains the same, Bonhomme. You can find an interpretation of the smiling snowman on every Effigy since its conception in 1955. Vintage Effigies are considered collectables and are even available for purchase through the Carnaval website but don’t go thinking that wearing one will get you into next year’s festivities! You’ll need a new one for that!
Like any festival, Carnaval is a reflection of the culture and history of the city in which it is held, Quebec City! Though we’ve shared some fun facts about this winter festival with you here, to get the full experience, you’ll just have to visit! The dates for Carnaval’s next two years are February 1st to 17th, 2019 and January 31st to February 16th, 2020.
Check out other great posts that Lauren has written over at DownshiftingPRO.