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Quebec City Winter Carnival Says to “Bring It!” to Polar Vortex
I love going to Quebec City in February. While mountains of snow and polar temperatures turn Ontarians into cringing shut-ins, Quebecers head boldly outdoors. Traffic is barely affected in blowing snow conditions, all night dance parties take place in sub-zero temperatures, and ice bars offer fortifying beverages to pedestrians on many main streets.
When I was in the walled city recently for Quebec City Winter Carnival, the biggest of its kind in the world, the main man was Bonhomme. A jolly bilingual snowman who seemed to be at just about every event, Bonhomme, I’m told, is an ambassador not a mascot. What’s the difference? Well, for one, he can talk. Rumors are there is more than one, but organizers say no. They just speed him around town in a special minivan with dark windows.
I met Bonhomme at his Ice Palace, across from the Parliament Buildings. He was mobbed like a rock star. Quebec kids love him more than Santa, because they say “He’s real.” His pad was impressive. There were 300 tons of ice bricks used in the construction and it took three weeks. In the old days the ice came from the St. Lawrence, but with global warming and ice breakers, that’s not possible any more. Instead, very clear ice bricks (made with–reverse osmosis–distilled water) weighing 300 pounds each got shipped in from Montreal. Then 12 people worked night and day to get it ready for opening day on January 31st.
Inside there was a kitchen, complete with ice stove, dining room, pantry (he only eats cold items), bedroom and ice shower. Everything a Bonhomme could want! In the dining room there were pictures of him and Princess Grace of Monaco who attended in 1969 and in the kitchen there was a calendar listing upcoming activities, including yoga. Cold yoga!
The Carnival was a blast. On the Plains of Abraham I watched kids ice fish for brook trout (there was a grill they could cook their fish on afterwards), took a ferris wheel ride, cheered the human foosball game players, and ate maple taffy cooled on the snow. What I liked best about the event this year was how it has opened up to all areas of the city. There were eight street business improvement associations that signed up to present activities. On Rue Petit Champlain, just below Chateau Frontenac, I spied 27 magnificent ice sculptures and took a trip down memory lane at Ti-Pere’s.
Ti-Pere was the pub owner who invented the high-octane drink called Caribou. A delicious mix of wine, brandy and spices, it was served hot in a small theatre space dedicated to this Carnival pioneer who passed away a few years ago.
Further afield, on 3rd Ave there were curling rinks for kids, a lumberjack axe-throwing contest, hot waffles and an amazing array of steam punk-style street performers who sang, danced and interacted with the crowd.
At the end of the day was a giant snowball fight. Who called the two teams of around 1,000 each to begin? Our man Bonhomme! Men in kilts fired military-looking rifles to finally let them know it was over. Who won? Nobody seemed to care. They just all took off for hot chocolate and a shot of Caribou.
Quebec City puts the win back into winter. I loved it. And I was dressed warmly, which helped. The Carnival goes until February 16th. Here’s the website. Go if you can. It will melt that polar vortex grimace off your face in a nanosecond.