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Frosty Wonderland in Quebec City

Carnivale Dates: January 27 to February 12, 2012

Bonhomme Photo Op photoMardi Gras in the warm south is a colorful parade and party time, in Europe the pre-lent festivals of the Catholic calendar, an excuse for beer drinking, funny costumes and tie clipping. In the northern latitudes, when a coat of frosty winter white snow blankets the Plains of Abraham, it is time for the Quebec Winter Carnivale. Thousands of fun seeking visitors flock to the capital of French speaking Canada to play and party for two weeks in the world’s largest winter carnival. The fortnight of events feature dog sled races, cross-country skiing, ice-sculpture competitions, parades both day and night, snow sled rides, outdoor music shows, and partying into the night in the brisk breath cloud air.

The Quebec Winter Carnival takes place in the open plains across from the provincial parliament building, between the stone arch gates to the old city and the military fortress citadel (see Citadel Military Museum). First begun in 1894, and held sporadically in Quebec City in various locations over the decades, officially organized in 1955, the Quebec Winter Carnival has grown with new activities, larger events and the long tradition of the center piece of the Ice Palace, a castle carved of ice blocks, now lit in glowing colors as the sun sets and the dancing begins. The Ice Palace is built every year for the festival as the home of the festival’s presiding mascot and ruler, Bonhomme, the jolly snowman, with his signature red cap and arrowhead sash. Bearing a striking resemblance to the Pillsbury Doughboy, Bonhomme’s presence is everywhere, greeting at the airport on arrival by plane, ice-skating with the kids on the public ice rink at the Place D’Youville, a balloon on the parade, and dangling from the neck of every festival goer. The miniature Effigy of Bonhomme serves as the ticket pass to the festival and collector piece with each successive year. His arrowhead sash is a First Nations Indian tradition, combined with the red knitted cap of the French settlers along the St Lawrence, for a unique symbol of Quebecois cultural heritage, and jovial perpetual grin.

Tickets to the Quebec Winter Carnaval are $12 and can be obtained in various locations around town or at the festival gates kiosks. Some of the sites, events and activities of the festival are free, but twelve bucks Canadian for several days and nights worth of entertainment is a bargain as amusements go. Looking for stuff to do with the family in the post-holiday wintery days of January without having to ski – if you don’t want to - head up to Quebec. If you do want to ski, the slopes are about an hour away, by the new Ski Bus shuttle from downtown hotels to Mont Sainte Anne and the Massif.

Ice Sculpture Quebec Carnavale photoA large swath of the historic Plains of Abraham where the battle which turned Quebec from French control to English (see Quebec City Musee de Fort) are transformed into an outdoor winter amusement park with various carnival style family-themed outdoor activities, ice-sleding, Ferris wheel, rope gliding and the center-piece of the snow sculpting competitions where blocks of ice and snow near the size of a country cottage are carved and shaved into amazing clever shapes. Even the famed bikini snow bath – the Bain de Neige – entertains the bigger children among us.

Quebec Winter Dog Sleds race photoThe plains snow course also features the ski and dog sled races with the track also head into the old town with start and finish lines in from of the Chateau Frontenac. Many public and private parties, shows and galas are held at locations across the city. The opening and closing ceremonies are held in front of the Ice Palace with throngs of participants, his honor Le Bonhomme Carnival, and the mayor of Quebec. The biggest official gala party is the Mascarade Ball de Bonhomme with up to 400 invited guests at the Grand ballroom of the iconic Chateau Frontenac hotel (see Chateau Frontenac Tour).

Quebec City Carnaval Parade baloons photoThe main parade through the city is a northern version of Macy’s, with floating character balloons, floats, marching bands and costumed characters. Some of the balloons and characters are familiar, to non-Canadians, but many are perhaps new to visitors to the north, from cartoons and kiddie shows on Canadian broadcasting, but no less entertaining, especially for young children who will find any floating creature magical.
Aside from the official Carnivale activities the Grand Allee street nearby, begins night-time dining, dancing and drinking into the wee hours. (see Grand Allee Nightlife).

Quebec carnivale horse sleigh photoCheck out city views from the L'Astral tower revolving restaurant of the Loews Le Concorde Hotel. Venture down into the lower quarter for gourmet dining. Take a ride on the ferry across the St Lawrence, cutting through the crunching ice of the river. Beyond the city, the slides and slopes of the Valcartier winter adventure amusement park offers snow thrill slides on inner-tubes from high towers (see Valcartier Vacation Village). The Hotel de Glace (see Canada’s Ice Hotel), one of only a few in the world offers a unique overnight stay experience, or the Wendake Premieres Nations (see Wendake First Nations Hotel) is one of the few tribal owned and operated hotels and gourmet restaurants in North America. A number of hotels around the city offer special carnivale packages during the festival. © Bargain Travel West

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Quebec Carnaval

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