by Linda Aksomitis
There’s nothing more fun than being a grandma and introducing your grandchild to new experiences–one of our most memorable has been a visit to Quebec Carnival, also called the Bonhomme Carnaval or the Carnaval de Quebec. The largest winter carnival in the world, Quebec Carnival runs through three weekends beginning in late January and ending in February of each year in Quebec City.
My grandson, Jon, and I, started the first day of Carnival meeting the Bonhomme over breakfast at our hotel. There couldn’t be a better ambassador for Carnival–and kids–than this seven foot snowman! Born in 1954, Bonhomme has been the official representative of the Carnival for generations of young Quebecers.
Like Bonhomme, we wrapped a bright, long red arrow sash around our middles before setting off outside. I immediately recognized the sash as being part of Metis tradition in the west, so wasn’t surprised to discover it had a similar history in Quebec and had been worn by both the bourgeois and the habitant classes during the 19th century. The original function of the sash was to tie jackets at the waist to keep them closed, but now it’s one of the cultural traditions that make Carnival such an integral part of Quebec winter celebrations.
First stop was–where else–the Bonhomme’s Palace. As you might expect, a snowman lives in an ice castle, with all of the furnishings even made of ice. We wandered through, checking out the ice benches, bed, and even bathroom!
Bonhomme’s festivities take place on the Plains of Abraham, one of Canada’s most important historical parks. In the 18th century the French and English battled for the right to rule, with the deciding battle happening on September 13, 1759. The British, led by General Wolfe, crossed the St. Lawrence River above Quebec, and defeated the French, led by General Montcalm on these Plains, establishing the course of history.
Today Quebec City is the only city north of Mexico that is still surrounded by the original battlement walls. Jon, like many other youngsters, looked for an opportunity to climb the walls, while the older and younger members of the crowd enjoyed visiting and drinking the free mugs of hot chocolate that were handed out.
After the hot drinks we decided to check out the ice sculptures. Regarded by some as the best Ice Sculpture festival in the world, the Quebec Carnival has a variety of different levels of competition. While many of the teams are Canadian, the sculpture artists come from around the world to show their best creative skills at the three-week-long festival. Another long-time Quebec cultural activity, ice sculpture has been popular since sculptors like Louis Jobin’s first ice creations in the 1880s.
While Jon gazed enviously at the sculptor’s tools–the small shovel and pick–I marvelled at the intricate work such utensils could do!
Our next stop was something Jon could participate in–the ice fishing. While Quebec youngsters may have lots of opportunities to try this with their parents on the thousands of lakes in Quebec, where Jon and I are from in Southern Saskatchewan, there just aren’t that many lakes or ice fishing opportunities. Carnival organizers create an artificial lake just for the kids and stock it with 5000 trout. The fishing pole is simple, just a rod and line with a hook on the end, but kids do get results!
While Jon was disappointed not to pull something out of the ice hole, we knew we’d have just dropped the fish back down for some other child, since we were staying in a hotel and had no access to cooking facilities.
Jon’s favourite activity at Carnival was a tie between foozball with real live players (we both got to participate) and snow rafting.
The raft we used truly was the same kind of raft used on the water, except a snowmobile pulls it to the top of a hill overlooking the Plains of Abraham. Once we were all in the raft, it was pushed ahead over the crest of the hill to slide through a snow course of lanes created by foot-high banks of snow. The screams were all pure fun!
We also climbed into the Ice Castle, walked through the indoor buildings and exhibits, and watched lots of fun events. Carnival, we both decided as we dragged our tired feet back to our hotel, is an event everyone should attend at least once in a lifetime!
If you go:
Visit the Carnaval de Quebec web site at: http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/
Teacher’s Pages with games, songs, and more: http://www.carnaval.qc.ca/en/scolaire.asp
Copyright 2007, Linda Aksomitis (Pub date – Jan 16/07). All Rights Reserved.