The ice carnival
t -20°C, you don’t find tanned bodies shaking their hips to the samba beat. At the Quebec Carnival, anyone wearing a swimsuit, a pure act of masochism, does it to dive into the snow. A glass of Caribou, the liquid sun, will help get the blood flowing back to their extremities. The ingredients of this traditional Canadian brew are red wine, brandy, vodka and, on occasion, maple syrup. Nearly 60,000 bottles are consumed during the 17 days of the biggest winter carnival in the world.
Its history hails back to 1894, the year it was first held. Quebeckers, who had acquired French traditions, celebrated the harsh winter—specifically the end of January and start of February—by going out into the street, eating, dancing and drinking to “warm the cockles of their hearts”. Eruption of the two world wars and the Great Depression marked a long pause, before the carnival returned in 1955, along with the figure who would become its greatest ambassador, Bonhomme, a smiling snowman, more than 2 metres tall, and weighing 200kg. This Quebec symbol, and friend of Santa Claus, who personifies joie de vivre in all his rotundity, even has his own LinkedIn profile.
The arty bit
The carnival has two ice and snow sculpture competitions. One is for children, and aims to encourage little ones to create sculptures. The other is the International Competition, where hundreds of artists from all over the world come to create abstract and figurative works.
More than 400 tonnes of ice are used to create the sculptures that convert Quebec into an open-air museum. They include Bonhomme’s home, a 12m-tall ice palace, constructed outside the Parliament building. Election of the carnival queen and her duchesses marks the beginning of the celebrations, which will next take place from 27 January to 12 February. Sled dog races, giant foosball tables, an outdoor cinema, an ice sculpture contest and night parades are some of the 200 activities provided for the more than half a million attendees.
However, it’s the canoe race that is the most eagerly awaited event. Wrapped in coats, gloves and tuques (Canadian version of the beanie hat), spectators cheer the 50 teams from Quebec, Canada, France and the United States. They row, for about 23 minutes, through the frozen waters of Saint Lawrence river, with ice crunching underneath.
The Plains of Abraham, one of the most important battlefields in Canadian history (location of the 1759 defeat of New France, leaving the country in the hands of the British) is now the setting of more enjoyable activities. Converted into a city park, it is crammed with tents, ice bars and outdoor Jacuzzis.
Like a figure in a snow globe, ready to shake and fill with snowflakes, Le Château Frontenac is the fairytale castle that presides over Quebec. Opened in 1893, and inspired by French Renaissance architecture, it is the perfect place to stay during the carnival. Its 611 rooms and suites have played host to Charles de Gaulle, Ronald Reagan, Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly. Enjoy the best views of the old city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Saint Lawrence river. During the carnival, it is also the venue for another special moment, the traditional Queen’s Ball. Nearly 400 guests come together in the ballroom, decorated in pure Frozen style. Because the cold is the real king of the party, held with Bonhomme’s permission.