It started as a wish for snow.
All week, the temperatures hovered around 84*F before our planned trip to Quebec for my SATW board meeting during the kickoff for the Quebec Winter Carnival. I’d stare out the window at the palm trees and sunshine and blue skies, sweating, not wanting to turn on the air conditioning in January, dreaming of snow.
Our plane dropped out of the clouds in Toronto in a whiteout. We caught of glimpse of downtown and it vanished as the plane rocked and bucked in outrageous, frightening wind shear. Snow swirled through the air, big fat flakes making big flat stretches of white across the runaway. Of course, our connecting flight to Quebec was delayed. By hours. Snow squalls came and went, swirling past the giant windows of the airport. Having awoken at 4 AM to start the journey, it felt like a dream, of snow and clouds and cold.
We were fortunate to make it to Quebec City. Every seat full, the prop plane glided over a mass of flat clouds that looked like a vast field of snow. The descent into the airport felt like a roller-coaster ride, even more frightening than our landing in Toronto. We later learned that many of our colleagues were stranded far longer than us, with several still in transit, unable to pierce through the blanket of snow, wind, and cold that covered the Northeast.
At the airport, we encountered a statue Bonhomme, mascot of the annual Winter Carnival, at baggage claim: a giant snowman wearing the arrowhead sash that is a symbol of French-Canadian culture.
Within the next few hours, we saw him in statue form all over the city, including a 24-foot-high sculpture near the foot of the Parliament Building. And lo and behold, he strode full-size into our cocktail reception at Carnival headquarters, and proceeded to take us on a behind-the-scenes tour of floats being prepared for the parade.
As we returned to the hotel, sleep-deprived, it still felt like a dream, giant snowmen and ice and flakes of snow, gusts of wind so bitter cold my face froze in seconds. After a good night’s sleep and a day of meetings, it was time to rejoin the dream. Bonhomme greeted us again at the entrance to Savini, a trendy restaurant, where he stood next to a Fiat 500 – which John got a real kick out of, since his first car was a Fiat 600.
After a fine meal – where we were each handed an effigy of Bonhomme, our pass into the Winter Carnival, we pulled on every layer of clothing we could muster to walk amid giant blocks of snow on rivers of sidewalk ice amid the opening festivities. It was a brisk -12*F. Few people stood still.
Fireworks exploded above the snow sculptors as disco music and colored lights pounded the frigid spaces between the crowd and the grand Ice Palace. We gamely ventured across the ice, walking at a slug’s pace to avoid slippage and to take in what was open on the festival’s first night.
It goes on through February 17, and builds up piece by frozen piece. With two more days of meetings ahead, we expect two more icy Bonhomme nights!
Experience Quebec’s Winter Carnival
Quebec’s Winter Carnival is an annual tradition that has been going on all our lives, but this was our first time to experience it. It’s cold. If you’re not from an icy climate, you’ll need to make sure you have appropriate clothing to face the bitter cold of a Canadian winter. That said, we piled on our layers and had lots of fun.
Carnival always starts before Lent and is always held in Quebec City, with a festival grounds set up with fun snow sports, snow and ice sculptures, and Bonhomme’s palace is the center of it all. It’s best to obtain tickets in advance; what was fun was that the tickets were actually little effigys of Bonhomme that we wore while on the festival grounds. Music, food, and fun, with a bit of arts and home show mixed in, and it goes on for two weeks!