by M. Maxine George
An invitation to visit Quebec City in the winter arrived. Hardly an idea I would have thought up myself! I've always considered myself a "hot house plant," needing plenty of warmth and comfort. The invitation intrigued me though. My prospective hosts exhibited an enthusiasm that was contagious. Curious to know how people could be enthusiastic about winter, I decided to find out for myself.
"Dress warmly. The temperature will be cold, but you can be assured that the welcome will be warm." With those words ringing in my ear, I packed for layering, layering and more layering, dreading the thought of leaving myself vulnerable to the cold. Long johns, tights, sweaters, warm slacks, mitts, wool socks and boots all went into my suitcase. The wind was blowing and the temperature was below freezing when I arrived in Quebec City, but true to their words my Quebec hosts warmly received me. I was in their city to discover the way Quebec people celebrate their winter. What I discovered was a wonderful surprise to this scribe from Lotus Land. No matter what the weather the people dressed warmly and turned out en-masse to enjoy their celebration of winter, Kellogg's Carnaval de Quebec. Sixty-five thousand people attended last year's Carnival. It is the largest winter carnival in the world, giving Quebec City claim to the title, Snow Capital of the world.
La Bonhomme, the official symbol and greeter, offers much fun and frivolity to those willing to come out to play during Carnaval. Ice climbing, snow rafting, snowmobiling, tobogganing, snow shoeing, skiing, snowboarding, dogsleding or sightseeing were activities offered by my Quebec hosts. With those opportunities an itinerary can be planned to fill most visitors expectations. However, if none of those activities appeal to you, there is always shopping in the old walled city in some of the many fascinating shops and boutiques I spotted and would love to have had more time to explore. I was told you can have the best crepes in the world there.
In the spirit of winter, an ice castle is built for La Bonhomme, across the street from the provincial parliament buildings. Thousands of ice blocks go into the castle which is lit from inside at night, making it quite an attractive sight. A tour inside the castle takes you to Bonhomme's ice office, complete with all ice furnishings. A short distance walk from the castle brings you to the entrance to the historic Plains of Abraham where seventeen days of winter fun and frolic take place. An international ice sculpture competition takes place here, with twenty countries taking part this year. Sled rides, dogsled races, ice climbing, horse-drawn slay rides, snowmobiling and many more winter activities were offered here. As I watched, lines of people converged on this historic site, which was large enough to swallow up the multitude, without appearing to be crowded in any way. Individuals and families roamed the site, taking part in the various events or observing at will. No matter where I went my inability to converse in French was not an impairment. I was treated with cordiality and civility. I too, could take pride in the fact a significant battle that influenced the history of our country took place right here on the Plains of Abraham.
With every meal you will come to appreciate another of Quebec's claims to fame. Their cuisine is excellent. On my first evening in town my group were taken to A la maison de Serge Bruyere for dinner. There the presentation of the food was an art. A photographer from Taiwan, who accompanied us, took pictures of each course. The food was a treat to the taste buds too. In contrast, the next evening we had dinner at a sugar shack, Le Chemin du Roy, where the food was a traditional Québécois meal which included maple sugar cured ham, baked beans, tortiere, fresh baked bread and more. Serving bowls were placed on each table. Most people availed themselves of the opportunity for seconds as the food was delicious. While we ate fiddlers played toe-tapping folk music. Guests were invited to join in with old fashioned instruments known as spoons. In short order guests, including a group of Pacific Rim journalists and photographers, were joining the musicians and enthusiastically contributing to the fun. An atmosphere of merriment and comradery prevailed throughout the evening. Following dinner, we were offered maple syrup candy, made outside in the snow and took a ride in a horse drawn sleigh through the snowy maple woods. What a treat! We all knew this was an evening that could not be duplicated at home. This was Quebec culture as others should experience it.
On our final evening in Quebec City our group attended La Grande Mascarade at the Hotel Loews' Le Concorde. A night of frivolity ensued. Emerging into the foyer of the grand ballroom, was like entering a fairy tale where all the characters came to life. Many of the revelers looked like they had just stepped out of historical novels. Flappers, follies dancers, musketeers, pirates, judges, and jesters, nuns, priests, devils, animals and cartoon characters; the costumes were only limited by human imagination! An artist was applying body paint on a near-nude model in a cupola just inside the ballroom. I felt a bit like Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party. We dined elegantly and danced to nonstop Dixieland music. It was a never-to-be forgotten evening.
Much too soon my visit to Quebec City came to an end. I went to find out how Quebec people celebrate their winter. I found out that they do it with pride and enthusiasm. They are a warm, friendly people and this unilingual, English speaking visitor had a wonderful time. In Quebec City I learned the meaning of their expression, joie de vivre. It describes a certain joy or enthusiasm for life which I found there. I would heartily recommend Quebec City's Carnaval as a place to go to break the winter doldrums!
Article and pictures (unless otherwise credited) by M. Maxine George
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How to get there: Quebec City is easily accessible by plane, train or bus. Jean-Lesage International Airport is served by Air Canada, Air Alliance and Inter-Canadian. Quebec City also can be reached through the gateway city of Montreal, where two airports serve domestic or foreign travelers. From Montreal I traveled by Via Rail (418-692-3940) on one of its regularly scheduled trains commuting between Montreal and Quebec City. The journey affords the opportunity to see more of the Quebec countryside.
Places to stay: There is accommodation to fit every pocketbook. First class hotels, motels and
Bed and Breakfasts are available to meet your needs. The Quebec Hilton is conveniently
located next door to the new Convention Centre and directly across the street from the Quebec
Parliament. Also the world famous Chateau Frontenac perches atop the hill inside the walls of
the old city. The Masquerade Ball was held at the Hotel Loews Le Concorde. All three hotels
are within easy walking distance of the sights of the Old City and the Plains of Abraham.
Restaurants: Quebec City offers a variety of excellent dining opportunities. I can personally recommend: A la maison de Serge Bruyere at 1200, rue Saint-Jean within the walls of the Old City (418-694-0618). For a truly unique cultural evening, go for a Sugar Shack experience. Le Chemin du Roy Sugar Bush served up some toe-tapping music to go along with their truly tasty food. It was very enjoyable evening. 237, chemin du Lac, Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures (418 878-5085).
If you are planning to attend the masquerade ball, your costume needs may be well looked after by Face a Faces 242, Saint-Jean, (418 522-4087).
For further information contact:
Greater Quebec Area Tourism and Convention Bureau
399, rue Saint-Joseph Est,
Quebec (Quebec) Canada G1K 8E2
Telephone: (418) 522-3511
Fax: (418) 529-3121
An accommodation Guide is available from The Greater Quebec Area Tourism and Convention Bureau. Also they offer an informative Tourist Guide.
Bureau 400, 1010, rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest
Montreal (Quebec) H3B 1G2
Telephone: (514) 873-7977 Fax: (514) 873-9852
Via Rail: Information and reservations (418) 692-3940
Air Canada: Reservations (418) 692-0770
Quebec Hilton: (418) 647-2411
Le Chateau Frontenac: Reservations (418) 692-3861 or 1-800-441-1414
Adventure Nordbec: Telephone (418) 889-8001 Fax: 889-8307
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