A few years ago I made the trip to Québec to check out the Winter Carnival which takes place every year in the province’s capital city around early February. The multi-day celebration involves snow sculptures, ice castles, outdoor sports, parades and in 2011 drew a crowd of nearly 650,000 visitors. Though all these things are great, the reason most people make the trip is to see Bonhomme.
French for “snowman”, Bonhomme is the official mascot of the carnival and in some ways, is a symbol of Québec City itself. Created in 1954, Bonhomme spreads the “joie de vivre” that comes during this festive time of year with his cheeky grin, floppy red hat and arrow sash – a symbol of Quebecois society dating back to the 19th century. If you ask me, he’s a bit creepy, but nonetheless there is something fascinating about him and I’ll admit, I spent most of my time at the carnival seeking him out.
Apparently I’m not the only one to see his appeal:
If you plan to head to the festival this year, it will be running from February 1st to 17th. Here are a few places where Bonhomme is sure to be found:
The palace of ice
One of the main hubs of the carnival, this year the Ice Palace is located right on the plains of Abraham in the centre of all the action. Built out of solid ice bricks and fully lit at night, the Palace plays host to stage shows and is the official residence of Bonhomme. Surrounding the palace is a massive outdoor amusement park with arctic spas, snow slides, dogsled rides, snow rafting, a children’s village and the famous snow sculptures. These massive structures create a sort of gallery along the fairway inspired by politics, pop culture and Quebecois folklore – a personal favourite.
Parading through the night
There’s something magical about going to a parade when it’s dark outside. Twice during the carnival, the celebration hits the street for the night parades – two of the best events to check out. A tradition for the last 55 years, the parade kicks off in Charlesbourg with a foray of colourful costumes, floats and music that bring life and excitement to the streets of Québec City. The second night heads Up Town where dance troupes and marching bands add to the energy of the dazzling spectacle. Bonhomme is once again the main attraction and at the centre of all the action.
If chasing around a snowman doesn’t sound that exciting to you, the carnival offers some more extreme activities to keep the adventurer within you entertained. Watch paddlers battle it out among the floating snow and ice in the St. Lawrence River for the CMQ Canoe Race final or jump into your own raft with some friends for some downhill snow rafting. Take a slide on an inner tube down one of the steep snow hills or get nostalgic with a sled ride down the ice luge. The grounds are chock full of activities that will make your winter memories as a kid come to life.
Sharpen you skates
Once you’ve tired from all the extraneous activities, head to the rink where Bonhomme will be found throughout the carnival practicing his cross-overs and spins. If you’re like me and you haven’t skated in years, get some liquid courage from the Carnivals official drink, caribou. With a mixture of brandy, vodka, sherry and port this will not only warm you up, but put you in the holiday spirit. I think I may have just discovered the secret behind Bonhomme’s mischievous grin.
For more on the carnival, visit: www.carnaval.qc.ca