Browsing through travel magazines and brochures, we can find plenty of places to spend a winter week or extended weekend.
But it’s doubtful there’s anywhere more family-attractive than the Quebec Winter Carnival, or Carnaval de Quebec, the world’s largest winter festival.
This year’s extravaganza is over, but you might consider saving February 1-17 for next year’s event.
Quebec City is about 700 miles, or an 11-hour drive from York, mostly by interstate highways. Just a reminder– you’ll need a passport.
The carnival includes snow and ice carving, multiple toboggan runs, parades, building blocks of ice, sledding, snow baths, hockey, curling, a canoe race (really), ice skating and food. The canoe race involves close to 60 teams as they square off over the frozen waters of the St. Lawrence River, competing in one of four categories.
The food is enough to entice you to visit– maple ice cream, maple syrup on a stick, poutine (a dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), beaver tails (fried dough pastries, individually hand stretched to resemble a beaver’s tail). And plenty of other carnival ‘goodies’.
To warm up your insides, try a caribou, a drink made famous by the carnival. A little bit of vodka, Canadian sherry, Canadian port, and brandy.
Not far away from carnival center is Hotel de Glace, or the Ice Hotel. “Everyone is invited to fall under the charm of the enchanting Hôtel de Glace, a stunning yet ephemeral work of art and architecture entirely built of snow and ice. It is the only hotel of its kind in North America.”
While it is not directly connected to the carnival, the Ice Hotel is worth a visit or a reservation. For a room on February 25, it would cost $1072.64. In December, before the season gets fully underway, a room goes for a little over $200.
The carnival runs for 17 days, attracting nearly a half million people from all over the world to its chilly celebration. This year, the International PeeWee Hockey Tournament coincided with the carnival, with teams from 15 different countries involved. The Hershey Jr. Bears won their first two games before losing a 3-2 shootout to a Quebec team.
The carnival is spread out over a few different sites, never too far for a snowy walk, and always within a few minutes of the Petit-Champlain district, a picture-perfect neighborhood resembling a quaint riverside village. Even if nothing on the carnival’s schedule excites you (that’s hard to imagine), the family can always visit nearby museums, restaurants or neighborhoods.
The single celebrity or star of the carnival is Bonhomme Carnaval, a snowman, the king, the ambassador, not some actor in a costume. He makes appearances throughout the carnival, attracting huge crowds of fans.
Bonhomme joined the St. Hubert Snow Bath during the last weekend, in which about 80 ‘swimmers’ donned bathing suits and swam in the snow piles. It’s been colder recently in Quebec, but rules still demand that participants exercise for a time before hitting the 12F degree air and snow.
The snow and cold is part of the Quebec Winter Carnival, and the locals here revel in it. To fit in, find a hooded winter coat (fur or faux fur preferred), snow boots and a stocking cap. Until you greet a stranger with a strange-sounding “Bonjour”, they won’t know you’re from the states.