Quebec’s Winter Carnival – One Happy Guy

Quebec’s Winter Carnival – One Happy Guy
Surviving the Quebec Winter Carnival requires strength, stamina, and the occasional transfusion of Caribou blood
BY LESLIE ANTHONY

My vision might be temporarily less than perfect, but this much is clear: I’ve been in Quebec too long. If it weren’t for the anti-infl ammatory properties of the blizzard currently raging through the streets of Quebec City, my eyes would be drooping like a basset hound’s. My toxic inflow had been creeping up all day with strong coffee and good wine, but when the Winter Carnival kicked of  with a raucous night parade, it was joined by a parade of wine-filled botas, quarts of beer, and surreptitious shots. And now, reeling at a late dinner in a century-old, woodpaneled drawing room, I’m visited by the local version of a pink elephant — Bonhomme Carnival, a toqued and sash-bound Michelin Man. But it’s no hallucination. Bonhomme (“happy man”) is real — and he’s everywhere.

I’ve seen him wandering amidst Ferris wheels, racing down ice slides and toboggan runs. I’ve seen him on the Plains of Abraham, where British general James Wolfe defeated Louis-Joseph de Montcalm’s French army to take possession of Canada. I’ve seen him cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and laughing silently in sleds drawn by somnolent draft horses in decorative tack. I’ve seen him ice-canoe racing in the slush-filled St. Lawrence, then helping teams from around the world build massive snow sculptures while the smell of smoldering pine and maple syrup wafts from warming stations. And I’ve seen him commune with wide-eyed, sled-bound      toddlers, frisky teens, and shivering mutts, sharing an obvious joie de vivre and pride in the world’s largest, longest winter celebration.

The historic architecture that has garnered Quebec City UNESCO World Heritage status doesn’t include the carnival’s Hotel de Glace, whose huge vaults, crystalline sculpture, and dazzling decor have seduced thousands since opening in 2001. Carnival, of course, goes further back. Since the 1600s, les habitants of snowbound New France kept up the rowdy pre-Lent tradition of eating, drinking, and merrymaking for a fortnight in February. Quebec’s first large carnival took place in 1894, but in 1954 businessfolk relaunched festivities with Bonhomme as the mascot. Snowballing to third on the list of top carnivals behind the fetes of Rio and New Orleans, Quebec’s Carnival is an important vehicle for economic activity — and a must-do stop for skiers like me.

Next day, below legendary Chateau Frontenac, where  405-year-old cobblestoned streets host sled-dog races, I stomp my feet in a bid to keep warm. Suddenly, Bonhomme leans in with a knowing smile, and unscrews the handle of his hollow cane.  Voulez-vous de Caribou? The traditional blend of brandy, vodka, sherry, and port is nothing like ungulate blood but has a similar ef ect of keeping you warm — or at least inebriated enough to not care. Certainement, merci. As dark, viscous liquid coats my throat, this much is clear: I haven’t been in Quebec long enough.

 

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