Quebec Winter Carnival: Turning Winter Into

a Celebration

January 22, 2020 -
Le coffre aux trésors d'Hôtel Château Laurier Québec

Bonhomme Carnaval Credit: Stéphane Audet

In Quebec almost anything can be an opportunity to celebrate – there are over 600 festivals in the province each year! Even so, the Quebec Winter Carnival is a festival unlike any other. After all, the winter here lasts four to six months, making Québec City something of a capital of snow. The Quebec Winter Carnival is the oldest winter festival in Canada. This year, from February 7 to 16, many activities will allow festival goers, both locals and tourists, to fully experience the joys Quebec’s winter has to offer. So, we decided to offer you a brief history of this extraordinary celebration as well as our suggestions for the best ways to take part yourself!

A Festive History

Carnivals are an old European institution, associated with the religious calendar and Mardi Gras. This celebration, however, took on an additional meaning in Québec City – a sort of truce in our battle against the cold! The idea of organizing a festive event in the heart of winter in Québec City roughly dates back to the 17th century, during the New France era. But the first real Carnival was held in 1894.

People gathered in the city streets to have fun, laugh, sing and be entertained, as if to snub the cold! Trumpets were played. It featured elements that, in some cases, would become iconic: the ice palace, snow sculptures, a night-time parade of floats, skating, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, dances and sports competitions – including dog sled races and ice canoe races on the St. Lawrence River.

Ice canoes on the frozen river.
Credit: Francis Gagnon. Courtesy of Office de Tourisme de Québec

During the second carnival in 1896, discounted Canadian Pacific Railway fares enabled visitors from New England, Ontario and even Western Canada to visit Québec City and participate in the celebration.

Rise of the Modern Carnival

As a result of the wars and economic crises, the Carnival didn’t originally take place every year. It was organized sporadically until the 1950s. Starting in 1955 the winter festival truly became an annual event, considered a means to promote winter tourism in the city. The event was marked by festivities, sports and games, as well as the night parade. The highly prized Queen’s Ball was held in the ballroom of Château Frontenac. Huge fireworks closed the party.


Quebec Winter Carnival in 1896 : Attack on the Ice Palace in front of the Parliament. Engraving published in Le Monde illustré, vol. 12, no. 613 (février 1896), p. 607. BAnQ, illustrations from old magazines. Public domain.

It was also in the mid-1950s that Bonhomme appeared: all white, wearing a red cap, with his waist wrapped in a beautiful sash. He symbolizes the “joie de vivre,” to the delight of the young and old. Days before the Carnival, Bonhomme visits children in daycare centres, the elderly, and prisoners in jail. When he officially enters the city, the mayor of Québec City gives him the keys to the city. Bonhomme then takes part in virtually all Carnival festivities. Throughout the year, he acts as an ambassador for the Quebec Winter Carnival, travelling around the world to promote the event! A life-size model of Bonhomme is installed in the lobby of Hôtel Château Laurier Québec, very close to the concierge office. Don’t forget to take a picture during your stay!

After the 1950s, the Carnival expanded and welcomed an increasing number of visitors. The 1960s and 1970s introduced ice-skate barrel jumping competitions, a Pee-Wee hockey tournament, go-kart and snowmobile races, and even a moustache contest! In 1964, 260,000 people visited Québec City for the Carnival; in 1994, almost a million visitors are present, of whom more than 20% came from outside Quebec – mostly from Europe and the United States.

The Carnival boasts an excellent reputation and a remarkable longevity. It’s become a classic of Québec City, a true trademark recognized on the international scene.

What’s On at the Carnival This Year

Once again this year, the Quebec Winter Carnival offers a variety of activities to tame our wintry northern landscape.

Discover the different spectacles that highlight the fun of winter: the maze, the ice sculpting demonstrations and the impressive ice sculpture route, as well as the unmissable Bonhomme’s Palace! Technological activities are also available, including the Pixel immersive experience, against a backdrop of arcade games from the 80s and 90s.

A float passing through the Saint-Louis gate during the 1956 night parade. Courtesy Carnaval de Québec

If you’re feeling a little more energetic, the programming includes Shoot & Putt tournaments (a hybrid between minigolf and field hockey), a friendly axe throwing competition, 4-on-4 hockey games with the Goon’s League, and sledding on the Christie Descent, a 300-foot-long track that includes a bend!

Finally, foodies and gourmets can benefit from wonderful activities that will delight their taste buds. The sugar shack allows you to sample maple products, including the iconic maple taffy on snow. Beaver Tail pastries are also available for your sweet tooth. In short, the food on offer, including mixology and a Carnival “caribou” cocktail recipe, is truly excellent.

Things You Won’t Want to Miss

While most features of the Quebec Winter Carnival programming are ongoing throughout the event, others are more exclusive.

For instance, on Friday, February 7, a Hip-Hop Party will welcome several artists from the current Quebec rap scene, including Alaclair Ensemble. For electronic music lovers, they will be transported by the Electro Frette evening on Friday, February 14, which will feature five young female DJs from cities including Los Angeles, Paris and Kiev. Other musical performances are planned throughout the Carnival, from the blues to folkloric rigodon. So, take the time to check out the programming for the various stages.

On Sunday, February 9, don’t miss the canoe race, which brings together several teams, including one made up of competitors from Hôtel Château Laurier Québec!

And of course, we can’t forget the long-awaited Parade, on February 8 and 15, which is always a highlight of the Carnival. It’s like a moving circus, with dance, music, fabulous characters and energetic performances. The two parades take place on Grande Allée Street, right on our doorstep.

Carnival night parade.
Credit : Audet Photo. Courtesy of Office de Tourisme de Québec

After all the time spent with our cheeks pink from the wind, what a pleasure it is to enter a cafe or a bistro to warm up with a good soup, a hot chocolate or, to be truly Quebecois, a poutine!

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The concierge team at Hôtel Château Laurier Québec is committed and happy to help you with all your wishes: whatever your needs, do not hesitate to contact us. Whether for business, family, girls’ night out or activities for couples, we will ensure your stay in Québec City is a true pleasure.