OVERVIEW OF THE CARNIVAL
There’s a long history of celebrations spanning from late January to mid-February in Quebec City. In the worldwide capital of snow, the first large-scale winter carnival took place in 1894. A population often faced with harsh winters used these festivities to warm their hearts during the cold season. The Carnival would go on to resurface every once in a while until the second half of the century, occasionally interrupted by events such as both world wars and the Great Depression.
In 1954, a group of Quebec City businessmen decided to bring the Carnival back to further the region's economic development. The first edition of the modern Quebec Winter Carnival took place in 1955, and Bonhomme was chosen as its representative. Very soon, the Carnival became a must-see for the local population and a crucial driver of tourism in the city. Nowadays, the Quebec Winter Carnival is a major winter event and an engine driving the Quebec economy and lifestyle during the cold season.
Throughout the years, the Carnival enhanced its program with many winter sports and activities derived from the traditional Québécois way of life. Over time, the event created its own rich universe and traditions inspired by its French-Canadian roots.
Red clothes, songs, the arrow sash, Bonhomme’s Effigy and the little shot of caribou that gets you in the mood are all time-honored traditions going back to the origin of the Carnival, and sometimes earlier.
The Arrow Sash
The Carnival helped the arrow sash remain a part of Quebec society to this day. In the 19th century, the arrow sash was used to fasten clothing around the waist and prevent cold air from seeping in. It also supported the back during effort.
Many believe fléché weaving was inherited from native populations, but it really is a blend of two techniques: native-style braiding and French-Canadian weaving. The base chevron pattern of the fléché, however, is universal.
The Salut Bonhomme Song
Nothing improves the ambiance of the Carnival Night Parades more than these long red or blue trumpets! Come on, put on your red coat, your arrow sash and your tuque—in Quebec City, celebrating is part of our DNA!
Did you know...
The Carnival trumpet can produce sound up to 144 decibels?
THE CARNIVAL THROUGH THE YEARS
Timmons, a cider and carbonated beverage manufacturer, has its float ready for the 1894 parade on the côte d’Abraham.
In the winter of 1928, the Club Automobile de Québec was understandably proud of the ice sculpture in front of its offices, on the corner of rue Buade and rue des Jardins.
On a beautiful sunny afternoon in 1940, a dog handler trains his dog team for a race near the Château Frontenac.
Bundled up in warm clothing, the founders of the Carnival proudly wear their arrowhead sashes as snow falls on Quebec City. Louis-Philippe Plamondon in the middle, Wilbrod Bherer on his right and Louis Paré on his left.
First edition of the contemporary Quebec Winter Carnival. Creation of the Effigy. Bonhomme Carnaval makes his appearance surrounded by Duchesses; the one who sells the most tickets is proclaimed Queen of the Carnival. Until 1972, the Ice Palace was built at place D’Youville.
The Quebec City area is divided into seven Duchies, each headed by a Duchess. The Duchy that sells the most tickets wins its Duchess the title of Queen of the Carnival.
The ice canoe race takes place under the worst conditions in the history of this classic. Only 4 of the 21 teams make it to the finish line.
A new concept was created to replace raffle tickets: the Carnival Candle. For the first time, the Queen is elected after a random draw. The Soapbox Derby is now part of the program.
In 1960, the first Carnivalesque Street is born.
The first Barrel Jumping Competition takes place. Motorcycle Races on the ice were held occasionally until 1997.
In 1962, Bonhomme's Ice Palace stood out thanks to a futuristic look. Word has it that the designer, architect André Robitaille, was inspired by a photograph of an iceberg taken in 1908 by Captain Joseph-Elzéar Bernier during one of his expeditions to the far north. The first Carnival workshops were built on rue Joly.
Barrel Jumping, a sport now relegated to the history books, was part of the Carnival until the late 1980s. In 1963, the Queen was chosen outdoors for the first time as the Crowning took place at the exhibition grounds race track. Never before had the Carnival attracted such huge crowds.
The name "Bonhomme Carnaval" and his image become registered trademarks. Voûtes Chez Ti-Père opens on rue Sainte-Thérèse.
Creation of Place Carnaval at Lower Town's parc Victoria, where many activities would be held. A Grand Prix Auto Race was held until 1978, and then again from 1984 to 1994. From this year until 1995, 18 Chess Tournaments would take place. The Order of Bonhomme is created.
A team of women takes part in the Canoe Race for the first time. In the summer, thousands of families received a questionnaire as the Carnival launched its first public consultation. This exercise was repeated the following year. The Order of the Duchesses is created.
Following public consultations, the Crowning of the Queen once again features a light show.
The Carnival refers to this edition as the “Carnival of Innovations” in its annual report. This year featured the creation of inter-duchy games, the return of old activities like the Regency Ball, the Children's Floats Parade and the large Bonfire on the Plains of Abraham.
Bonhomme visits the Institut Saint-Joseph in Lévis.
A new tradition is born: closing the event with a fireworks display. From this year until 1993, Snowmobile Races would be held sporadically. Bonhomme Carnaval becomes the Carnival's ambassador, traveling worldwide to promote the event.
The 1971 Ice Palace. The Carnival had to deal with many snowstorms that year. The Crowning of the Queen was broadcast for the first time, live from the Grand Théâtre, which had just opened.
From this point on, Gregorian calendar holidays are no longer the basis of the Carnival schedule. For instance, it now ends on a Sunday evening rather than on Mardi Gras.
The Ice Palace is built at the Esplanade, in front of Parliament Building, rather than at place D’Youville. The Esplanade also hosts the first International Snow Sculpture Competition, featuring teams from Quebec, France, the USA and Japan.
At the 1973 and 1974 Carnivals, Bobino (Guy Sanche) and Bobinette, characters from the beloved children’s TV show Passe-Partout, offer four shows at the Quebec City Armoury. Bobinette wears a full Bonhomme Carnaval disguise, complete with a red tuque and arrow sash.
Bonhomme draws cheers from the crowd at the ceremonial puck drop of a Nordiques game. Creation of the Winter Break, which invites companies to give their employees time off from noon to midnight on Carnival Fridays. This event would last until 1986. An Inuit team takes part to the Snow Sculpture Contest for the first time.
The first Speed Skating Championship, which would be held until 1992.
The Carnival featured the Children’s Sculpture Competition from this year until 1991.
Bonhomme goes to Poste-de-la-Baleine (renamed Kuujjuarapik in 1980), on the shores of Hudson Bay, to visit Inuit winners of the of the previous International Snow Sculpture Competition.
From this point until 1992, Bonhomme's Palace was made of snow due to the lack of an ice supplier in the area.
Creation of two new Carnival sites: Place des enfants (a first winter playground dedicated to children) and Place du Manège (for Carnival get-togethers, such as social and public gatherings).
The 1981 Ice Palace. The Eccentric Hairstyle Contest persists until 1991.
Bonhomme goes to Acapulco, Mexico, to represent the Carnival and Quebec City during a tourism industry conference.
Until 1994, the wax candle is replaced by a “scratch-and-win” candle similar to a lottery ticket. First Night Parade in Charlesbourg.
The Carnival celebrates its 30th anniversary.
First edition of the Business Leaders’ Luncheon.
The Carnival Candle winning numbers' draw is postponed due to abundant snowfall. From this year onwards, teams of women take part to the Canoe Race.
The Snow Bath joins the program.
Several Hollywood celebrities visit the Carnival: international media coverage increases.
For the first time, a woman is president of the Carnival.
Place des enfants moves from parc Cartier-Brébeuf to the Plains of Abraham and becomes Place de la famille.
All Carnival activity ceases on rue Sainte-Thérèse. It's the end of an era.
The International Snow Sculpture Competition moves to the Plains of Abraham.
The Palace is once again built of ice rather than snow.
The Carnival celebrates its 40th anniversary.
The classic wax Candle is back.
Carnival managers choose to aim the festivities at the general public, with an emphasis on families. Activities are grouped together on two major sites: the Esplanade, in front of Parliament Building, and the Plains of Abraham.
The move to a family-oriented Carnival begins. The Ducheses and Queen disappear, and Duchies become Bonhommies.
The Knuks, mischievous jokers from the north, are seen for the first time. These cheeky characters are talented magicians, dancers and pranksters. The Carnival now has a title sponsor.
The human resources department is created to improve management of volunteers (recruitment, training, recognition activities), among other goals.
A third permanent site opens at place D’Youville. The Carnival decides to manage its own merchandise. The expertise of the Carnival Workshops makes allows them to accept external contracts.
The Carnival seeks to become the reference for winter festivals in North America.
The program centers more on interactive activities (Giant Foosball, Ice Fishing, Snow Sculptures). Creation of the Confrérie des Bretelliers de la Bougie.
Despite the coldest temperatures on record in the ten years, the 2003 edition was a great success.
The Carnival celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The Carnival is the very first event to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. A new Parade is specially created for the occasion.
The Carnival concentrates its activities on two main sites: Place Desjardins and Place Loto-Québec. Place Hydro-Québec is replaced by a huge outdoors stage on the Plains of Abraham, the Hydro-Québec Stage, where many shows are presented.
A ferris wheel is set up at the heart of the festivities: Place Desjardins, on the Plains of Abraham. Fabulous views for all visitors!
Bonhomme’s Ice Palace moves to Place Desjardins, by all other activities. In the Palace's huge igloo-like dome, people can dance in a festive atmosphere!
The LUMOCITÉ project, a projection mapping initiative, lights up four buildings near city center. A large Bonhomme statue in front Parliament building and the Festibière beer festival are among the novelties.
The Carnival celebrates its 60th anniversary by bringing the Duchesses back after 18 years of absence. The new Duchies follow the borders of Quebec City's boroughs. Bonhomme's Ice Palace is once again built in front of Parliament Building, and for the first time, the public gets to visit Bonhomme’s quarters. Eight Carnivalesque Streets join a festive circuit.
Bonhomme’s Winterland settles on the Plains of Abraham. Bulles, Whisky & Cie is held for the first time, to great success. The Night Parades are renewed with a northern theme.
Singer-songwriter Louis-Jean Cormier played his greatest hits alongside the Quebec Symphony Orchestra at the Videotron Centre for the opening ceremony of the 62nd Quebec Winter Carnival.
The Carnival spreads out across town in a reinvented, broader formula.
The Carnival now offers is themed activities on several sites within walking distance of one another: place de l’Assemblée-Nationale, the parc de l’Esplanade, the parc de la Francophonie, the parc de l’Amérique-Française and Grande Allée.