Standing outside the ice palace, I’m mesmerised by each perfect clear block of ice stacked before me. His face is planted in the centre of the wall, in case there was any doubt that this was his home. I’m excited to enter but have no clue what I’m going to see inside. As I walk through the ice door opening I hear him speaking “come in, come in! Bienvenue aux carnaval!” I’m instantly giddy at the site of him standing in his ice den with ice crafted furnishings which include an ice billiard table, chairs and fireplace. Not only am I finally here at the Quebec City Winter Carnival, but I’m meeting the Carnaval de Québec ambassador Bonhomme in his ice palace home.
I have dreamt of coming to Quebec City for carnival since it was first introduced to me as a child in French class. There were always excuses: it’s too cold. OK well, that was the main excuse. I was never really a winter person before. My idea of a winter getaway was always a beach vacation in the Caribbean. Writing for this site has changed me in so many ways, and these past few years Winter travel is something I’ve come to love. So with new Columbia winter sports gear which included a jacket, snow pants, boots and mittens all with a guarantee to keep me warm in -25-degree weather, I made my way to Quebec City to experience the Carnaval de Québec. The result: 4 days of incredible first-time dream experiences that only left me wanting more!
Dreams at Quebec City Winter Carnival
1. Visited Quebec City Winter Carnival
I love checking off items on my bucket list and walking through the gates of Carnaval was a rush I will never forget! The 17-day long festival (on until February 14) had many winter activities to take part in. From childhood winter games to musicians playing festive music, with adult beverages available throughout the grounds, there was something here for every one of all ages.
Watching ice sculptures take shape in regional and national ice sculpting contests was fascinating. These sculptures started off as vast chunks of compacted snow and ice, and all took different configurations each time you passed by.
Getting tied to a large metal rod to enjoy a game of human foosball was so fun. An excellent way to get warmed up during a chilly and snowy day in Quebec City.
There were so many fun activities, including a snow tube hill that also featured Human Bowling on one of the runs. People were placed inside the giant plastic balls, and they had to run down the hill towards the pins at the bottom.
What would a carnival be without a ride on the Ferris wheel? Other rides at the festival included a drop zone like the ride, dog sledding and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
There was a significant play area for children which included ice slides, these giant marionettes, themed igloos, snow games and so much more!
2. Met Bonhomme de Carnaval
The ice palace is open to all the festival goers with their $15 Carnaval Effigy Pendant. Inside you will see Bonhomme’s den and other sitting rooms, and you may even get a chance to play a little pool with him on his fancy ice billiard table.
A new themed ice palace is built for the Carnival Ambassador each year to keep him nice and cool when he visits from the North Pole. The blocks of ice are transported from Montreal from a company that specialises in creating these clear blocks of Ice that are dry to the touch.
There are plenty of activities for adults visiting the Carnaval de Québec. Little coffee shops throughout the carnival grounds were serving coffee with Amaretto to warm things up.
Also, a popular drink (and a must try) at the winter carnival is the famous “Caribou” beverage. The Caribou drink dates back to the early settlers of the region who drank a mixture caribou blood and whisky to stay warm. The mulled wine type beverage has evolved and is a mixture of red wine, whisky, maple syrup, cinnamon, citrus and nutmeg. It was served warm like hot apple cider but packs quite a punch with a 20% alcohol content.
You cannot go to Carnaval and miss the “Caribou Experience.” Many carnival goers had red plastic walking canes, and they were filled with the Caribou drink. I enjoyed one hot glass at a dance party held at the Ice Palace.
3. Hung Out with Quebec City Winter Carnival Royalty
Seven Duchesses are chosen representing the seven regions of Quebec City, each of these women is responsible for promoting the sale of the Carnival Candle which is a carnival tradition. There is judging that takes place before the start of the celebration, and the Duchess with good candle sales that meets all the selection criteria is crowned Queen. It is a great way to raise funds for the carnival and the Queen’s chosen charity.
4. Ate Maple Syrup Taffy off the Snow
I have done this back home in Ontario, but it seemed only right to experience Quebec made Maple Syrup since they are the most significant producers of Maple Syrup in the world. Also, there are many locations across the city including inside the Carnaval de Quebec gates where you can participate in this great Canadian tradition.
5. Ride on the Famous Quebec City Wood Toboggan
It is an iconic picture of Quebec City in winter, and I knew that I just had to do it. The best $3.00 you will ever spend. Once you purchase your ticket, you are handed the rope to a long wooden sled. The hardest part is walking up the steep wooden path carrying your toboggan behind you.
Once at the top, the fun begins. The Toboggans are placed on the hill and are stopped by a locking mechanism. Once you are all set, they release the lock, and you are off!
Carnaval de Québec is a must experience Tradition
For over 60 years the Quebec City Winter Carnival has played host to winter fans. Now one of the largest winter carnivals in the world it draws visitors from everywhere eager to participate in the celebration. For residents of Quebec, Carnaval is a spirit, a yearly tradition they all look forward to, and all participate in with enthusiasm.
Of course, I could not possibly leave the Carnaval de Québec without chocolate covered Beavertail! This yummy Canadian treat was my last memory of my first visit to Quebec City’s Winter Carnival, and I can’t wait to return for more!
Do you have a Quebec City Winter Carnival story?
I’d love to hear about your memories and traditions in the comments below!