Carnaval de Quebec – Quebec City, Canada
When our winter travel plans changed, we decided to look for winter festivals close to home. In searching, I found that Quebec City has a winter carnival – Carnaval de Quebec – for two weeks each winter and that seemed to fit the bill for a winter wonderland. I could not believe we did not consider Canada before.
This festival dates back to 1894 as the first major winter carnival. From what I gathered online, the festival was made up of a series of outdoor areas each with different festival activities. Admission to the festival was done through the purchase of an effigy that had to be displayed at all times – everyone wears it on their coats like a ski pass. Using the term effigy in this way was a bit confusing for us. The effigy contained the festivals cheery mascot, Bonhomme with his sash and trumpet, who is plastered all over the festival areas. In fact, he was there to greet us at the airport and throughout the entire city!
Admission was around 15$ a person for unlimited access to the carnaval and activities. For this year, proof of vaccination was required to attend any and all parts of the carnaval which was verified at one of various kiosks throughout the city and then a wrist band was worn indicating you were cleared.
This year there were three main blocks where festival activities were located and ice sculptures throughout the entire city that made a scavenger hunt. Due to COVID, a few of the normal offerings were postponed but there was still plenty to do. During our three day trip, we visited the carnaval twice which was enough time to enjoy the festival. Weekends were far more crowded than during the week which we definitely expected to be the case.
Various Ice Sculptures throughout the city
There were so many wonderful ice sculptures throughout the city which made for a fun way to explore. Finding an ice sculpture down a road allowed us to wander to areas unplanned.
Carnaval de Quebec Block 1
This area of the festival included giant snow sculptures, outdoor bar, secret forest, obstacle course, ice hockey, dance revolution, and axe throwing.
We did a lap to take everything in – the line for axe throwing was consistently long and probably one of the more popular activities. Watching participants make their way through the obstacle course was so entertaining – and the MC / host definitely helped make this event.
The secret forest was not very clear to us but we hopped in line and the staff explained it was a bit of a scavenger hunt. There were six stories that participants picked from and each story had a list of items that had to be found throughout the forest. We chose a story of a granddaughter/grandfather duo where the grandfather lost his phone in the snow. By finding the items listed by the story, we would then discover the ending. After we found our symbols, there were hut at the end that when entered the code found through the forest revealed the story’s ending. Turns out a squirrel started taking selfies with the camera.
Carnaval de Quebec Block 2
This area of the festival was reserved for giant Candbury slides. Unfortunately they were not open the first day we visited and when we return on Saturday the line when down for several blocks! But we enjoyed watching other experience the thrill.
There was also an ice luge that we hopped onto and instantly regretted as the slide was soaking wet and it went through all three layers of cloths and my winter jacket. I am sure these are enjoyable when it is not raining!
Carnaval de Quebec Block 3
This section of the carnaval was the center of attention featuring Bonhomme himself and his ice palace. There were also snow sculptures, an ice luge, and nordic animals.
When we arrived to this section on Saturday, it was absolutely jam packed! This was clearly extremely popular. Without knowing what it was for, we immediately got in the enormous line that wrapped through the entire area.
A few minutes into the line we figured out it was for the Bonhomme ice palace. Since we had a bit of a wait, Kevin decided to grab one of the hot specialty beverages from the bar to which is described as “pretty boozy!” and we got a fun souvenir mug out of it.
After waiting in the line for fifty minutes, we made it into the ice palace. The line to meet Bonhomme himself was equally long so we cut our losses there since the entire area was still mobbed. The ice palace was Bonhomme’s house full of rooms in a typical home such as a bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and bedroom – all made out of ice. The photo opportunities in here were endless which is probably why this activity is so popular.
We ventured across the street to the ice rink and while we had intentions of participating, the rentals unfortunately only accepted cash and we were at the end of the trip where it didn’t make sense to take out Canadian currency. We enjoyed watching others skate – it was clear many brought their own pairs from home. Beyond the rink two snow sculptures were actively creating which was so fun to watch and see the process from a mound of snow to a formed image. There was also a folk band playing which added to the ambiance as it snowed. Just a perfect scene.
As someone that dislikes the wintertime and the cold, it is amazing to see what people do to survive some of the harshest winter conditions. Staying indoors 24/7 is not an option and creating this carnaval is the perfect way to celebrate and embrace the winter and cold. Even though this year did not showcase the full offerings of typical carnaval years, it was still so much fun and I am so glad we visited to experience it.