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Six months after a summer visit to Québec, we went back there to see the world's largest Winter Carnival. The page title isn't spelled wrong — that's how to spell carnival in French.

This trip was a perfect example of why it's good to be flexible about weather in aviation. We had planned to fly out on Friday for a long weekend, and return Monday morning. But the forecast from late Thursday for the next two days was full of snow and ice — bad enough to keep us on the ground. All pilots know that there will be times they have to wait for good weather. Sometimes we also need to be able to move early, before the bad weather arrives.

So it was with this trip. We left a day early, and were safely in our hotel by the time snow started falling, which it did for the next two days. we didn't care. After all, it is a winter festival! And it cleared up nicely in time for the flight home.

The Carnival is famous for competitive sculpture in snow and ice. These examples aren't in the competition. Everybody gets into the act. We'll see the contestants soon enough.

This is a two-week pre-Lenten party. You wouldn't think of it in the same way as the parties in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, but this is the third-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the world. The larger ones just don't call for the same kind of clothing one needs in Québec.

There is another world-famous snow and ice festival, in Harbin, China. This is R. Todd King's photograph of its entrance gate. The sculptures in Québec aren't nearly this immense, but size isn't everything.

Having learned our lesson on our first visit, we stayed inside the walls this time. That's where we wanted to be anyway — might as well be close to the hotel at the end of the day.

The view from our window wasn't much, but we didn't spend a lot of time in the room anyway.

We were right around the corner from one of the city's premiere eating establishments. Not to worry, there were plenty of others to choose from.

This aspect of our hotel was worth viewing. The wall directly across the street is completely solid, but is covered with a beautiful example of the muralist's art. There are others in the Lower Town (this is in Upper Town) with more detail, but this is a fine greeting as we step out the front door.

Down the hill in Lower Town, the Québec mural looks pretty much as it did last summer. On the other side of Place Royale, an empty-headed knight keeps an eye on it.

Over in Petit-Champlain, this mural has to settle for a squirrel as guard.

For a couple of days, there were only a few breaks in the snow. When the opportunity came, crews worked quickly to clean up. They even cleared the roofs. It's better to do that before the sidewalk crew has done their thing.

This moose appeared in less than one day in front of the general store in the previous photo.

The old city is on an incredibly steep hill. Much of it is too steep to get around without stairs, so you'll find them all over the place.

Those steps pass the Institut Canadien, founded as a private library in 1848 to preserve the language and history of French Québec. It now manages the public library network of the City of Québec.

The statue and the wall carving behind it are part of a composite work, Nous Sommes un Peuple (We Are One People), by Luc Archambault. The work is his homage to those who assured the Institute's endowment. It was dedicated in November 2000.

Street scene up the steps from our hotel. We had one of the best meals of our lives in a restaurant about halfway down on the left, le Saint-Amour.

Here's the festival layout. Let's start in the middle at Parliament Hill. Québec's capitol building looks much more austere than it did last summer.

One entrance to Parliament is guarded by a statue of René Lévesque (1922–1987). To many people here, he is the embodiment of all that Québec stands for. The statue looks out over a boulevard that is named in his honor.

He founded the separatist Parti Québecois, and was almost successful in gaining the province's independence from Canada. Lévesque was Premier of Québec from 1976–1985.

He pushed a lot of legislation through to make French the "normal and everyday language" of Québec's daily life. His Bill 101 made it illegal for businesses to put up exterior commercial signs in any language but French, which complicated our visit more than a little.

This is actually the second statue of Lévesque to stand on this site. The first one was "only life-size," which apparently was not good enough.

The fingers of his right hand are parted slightly. Especially with the original statue, it was common for visitors to put a cigarette between his fingers, to make the statue "more realistic."

A plaque in front of this statue bears his famous quote (in French only):

Il est un temps où le courage et l'audace tranquilles deviennent pour un peuple aux moments clés de son existence la seule forme de prudence convenable. S'il n'accepte pas alors le risque calculé des grandes étapes, il peut manquer sa carrière à tout exactment comme l'homme qui a peur de la vie.

There is a time when quiet courage and audacity become for a people at key moments of their existence, the only form of adequate caution. If they do not then accept the calculated risk of giant steps, they can lose their way forever, exactly like the man who is afraid of life.

Between Lévesque and Parliament is an inuksuk, reminding us of Québec's third great ethnic group, the Inuit. Another inuksuk is at the Plains of Abraham, but we're not there yet.

Place Loto-Québec

Bonhomme, the jovial snowman who is King of the Carnival, resides in the Ice Palace at Place Loto-Québec, across from Parliament Hill. The stage in front of the palace is the scene of several festival events.

The Ice Palace must be seen at night, to enjoy the lighting effects that are not possible in daylight.

There was more competition for Bonhomme's anniversary throne before the sun went down, than after.

The Effigy is a little plastic charm that was our ticket to get into events and locations all over the city. This year was the 50th Winter Carnival since the event was revived in 1955. Inside the Ice Castle, there were pictures of the previous 49 Effigies.

Bonhomme always wears a red cap and rainbow scarf. For a couple of weeks, most carnival visitors dress this way, too. They're sold at most of the same stations where one can buy the Effigy. Each year, the scarf's design changes slightly, but there's not much you can do with a red cap.

The snow sculpture competition has three divisions: Student, Canadian, and International.

The Student Division is on display at Place Loto-Québec.

I Think, Therefore I Am
Maurice-Barbeau Center of Professional Training.

We are all students of jewelry. Creating jewelry with our own hands brings great improvement. Developing an idea about an esthetic object is a medium of expansion for us.

50th Anniversary Effigy.

Place Desjardins – Plains of Abraham

The other two snow-sculpture divisions compete on the Plains of Abraham, where Generals Wolfe and Montcalm competed in the French and Indian War. Of course, the stakes are a little different these days.

The International Division has the largest workspace: a block of snow

Each group has 120 hours to finish their sculpture. Yes, they work around the clock.

All groups are given a standard set of tools.

This is the French entry. They didn't start until the other groups were almost done, but they still had no trouble finishing in time. Their finished sculpture looked different from the various angles as we walked by.

EMPREINTE, je me souviens
IMPRESSION, I remember

When one thinks about snow, one thinks about impression. It is the memory of man's passage, the symbol of his presence and sometimes of his absence. It is also the signature of his work, that which fashions the planet, the beginning and end of his gesture. We wanted to play with light, with voids and volumes, believing the symbolic faults where one discovers partitions and roads marked by time, drawings, words, all who are going to struggle with oblivion.

Bush Takes a Mouthful
Bas St-Laurent, Québec

Politics. In 2004, some people thought the U.S. President was trying to devour the world.

The Kiss
Nova Scotia

A kiss, so often in conflict with reason and society, is the blossoming and the rebirth of a profound passion against which we are sometimes powerless. In this sculpture, we represent this with two fish rising on a background of organic forms and vegetation, each circling and facing the other, like in a vortex, at the approach of the moment of ultimate reckoning. Not only does the fish represent our biological nature and evolution, but in many mythologies it is the symbol of subconscious wisdom, just below the surface.

Back in 15 Minutes
Northwest Territories

Missed By a Hare
British Columbia

Yukon Territory

The Cycle of Life
Montérégie, Québec

The double helix of our genes, this cycle without end that has its origin in the soup of our prehistory, is our evolution across the ages, to major victory of generation for our identity, infecting our heirs with our destiny.

It is my history, my life, my future…

The House Eaters
Saguenay, Québec

They stuff their faces to fatten up. Not at all without knowledge of the village… and it's at this "garnish" that the people of the North Pole begin their seasonal migration.

Different regions within Québec seemed to have equal standing in the competition with other provinces and territories of Canada. We have already seen entries from Bas St-Laurent and Montérégie.

The "Kingdom of Saguenay" even has its own flag. There is a double cross: silver, for industry; over red, for population. The field is part green, for forests; and part gold, for rich harvests. This flag has been flown since 1938, at the centennial of settlement of the region.



Look Behind You

Québec's Gordian Knot

Inspired by the Gordian Knot sliced by Alexander the Great's épée, this work represents the issue of a knot made of snow. Will it be solved by itself, or will time and the sun's rays play a major role in its denouement?

United States.

A continuous structure resembling a ribbon making a loop around and across itself, forming an abstract inclined figure.

Towards the Sun

In our country, summer is very short. At the beginning of summer, when the days are longer and warmer, birds begin to migrate toward the North. There are millions of birds, of hundreds of species, in Finland. Some come from equatorial Africa, thousands of miles away. Summer is an intense time for these birds; they must find a partner, build a nest, hatch their eggs and feed the young birds; and teach them how to fly and how to find food for their survival.

Soon, the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder. Summer pulls to its end. It's time again to head south. The youngest birds follow the oldest, who know the way. Nobody knows exactly how the birds can find the route without map or compass. They can find their way in fog, on a cloudy day, or at night. But when the sun shines at midday, it's easy to find the South. They only have to fly toward the South.

This work represents the birds flying toward the Sun, toward the South. The Sun appears exactly behind the clouds, showing the birds the right route. The large bird who has extended his wings over the smaller ones, symbolizes the love and care of parents. Like us humans, it takes care of its young until they have left the nest.


Our work is like a woman before her own image, made in the nude in the cold of snow. We mark their distance in the brevity of the instant that separates them, in their equality of forms, limits, curves, flat surfaces, and edges.

There are coincidences that are only a thought that escapes us. Capturing this image, the form and idea of this sculpture spring up, just like the sounds that make the rhythms of music.

Likewise, the pair of feminine forms arises. Two busts in contrast to the expression of a single idea, of a lone woman who is the instrument of creation and resurrection and who is the origin of an intimate secret, like the mirror of the soul between two busts made in the massive fragility of a block of snow.

The biggest crowds were usually at Place Desjardins. Aside from the snow sculptures, there are vendors and other activities there.

There were several activities just for kids. Here, they're fishing in a "trout pond" that was constructed especially for the Winter Festival. It's basically a temporary swimming pool with careful temperature control. Come here in the summer and you won't find a trace of it.

There are plenty of activities for adults, too.

Whitewater rafting, redefined.

Ice-canoe racing.

You can't make some things up. This account is quoted directly from the Carnival literature:

The adventure of the Knuks at the Québec Carnival began with the passage of Bonhomme in the Nordic counties. Bonhomme met this joyful tribe during the Night of the Ice. Their friendship was born when Bonhomme helped them to combat their enemy, the Grrrounchs. Bonhomme enabled the signing of a peace treaty between both clans which was signed in a block of ice. Since then, each year the Knuks leave behind their little village in the Arctic Circle to join Bonhomme and the carnival-goers in their festivities. The jovial spirits and playful antics of the Knuks bring joy to the young and the young at heart. They are now serving as knights for Bonhomme and accompany him from celebration to celebration…

There was some ice sculpture on the Plains of Abraham too, but the truly fancy work was in the competition in the Lower Town.

Music was everywhere.

Some harmonious, some just loud.

These guys in Place Desjardins had a heated stage, …

… but this fellow in the Lower Town earned his tips the hard way.

Snow taffy, or tire sur neige.

Maple syrup is heated to 240°F, then poured directly onto packed snow on a board or in a trough. It's tested by tapping it with a finger — if it sticks to the snow rather than the finger, it's ready to be served. At this time, it can be rolled up on spoons or palettes like popsicle sticks.

Another seasonal tradition is caribou. Traditionally, this potent drink was once just that — the local Algonquian Indians used to drink caribou blood. French settlers mixed it with vodka to cut the taste. Today, caribou substitutes port wine for the blood, with the heady addition of brandy, vodka, and sherry.

An alternate recipe calls for red wine, maple syrup, and vodka. Still another adds cinnamon and cloves.

However it's made, we saw plenty of Carnival revelers drinking the stuff from hollow canes with caps that are made to look like Bonhomme himself.

Upper Town

Porte St-Louis.

Inside the walls, terrain divides Québec between the Upper and Lower Towns. Upper Town's Rue St-Louis is near the famous (and expensive) Château Frontenac, so it is a natural shopping district. It gets cold here; furs like this are definitely not out of place.

There are mobile information centers all over town.

Terasse Dufferin, near the Château Frontenac.

Place d'Armes, nearby. We remembered this pair of acrobats from Summer 2003.

One morning there was a soapbox derby on the hill near our hotel. We walked over there and waited …

… and waited …

… and waited.

When the event finally got underway, it didn't take long. That's a steep hill, so they got quite a bit of speed on.

One night we dined with a view of Rue St-Jean.

The next, we had that meal at Saint-Amour. We were informed at least twice that the owner-chef had been voted the National First Prize. This prize is awarded each year to the best chef in Québec.

This bakery has pastry that looks like sea food.

Place Hydro-Québec

Music, skating, and the movie.

Lower Town — Ice Sculpture

One thing didn't change since last summer. It's still a long way down the steep Casse-Cou Stair

This time around, we rode the funicular car back up to Terrasse Dufferin.

We didn't have to look hard to find the first competitor. The 1991 ice castle is at the foot of the Casse-Cou Stair.

The ice sculpture contestants had two main themes: Ice Castles from previous years, and Bonhommes.

These two were not entered in the contest.

The Ice Hotel

One day we visited the Ice Hotel, which is rebuilt and destroyed every year. There's no choice, when your structural material is water and the temperature sometimes goes above freezing.

It's about a 45-minute drive from Québec to the hotel.

The hotel even has a sponsor. Parmalat is ultra-pasteurized milk. It will keep for several months at room temperature, until it's opened.

They don't miss any detail, from the fur-lined entry door to the sign-in stand made of ice, to the intricate chandelier.

Welcome to the Heritage Exposition

Pictures are "hung" by simply freezing them into place.

The same technique works for coasters in the bar.

The chapel is popular for weddings.

Here are the two main construction materials. The hotel builders get their own ice from a nearby lake, but they need so much snow that they have to truck it in.

This is the outside of the hotel's night club. We'll see the inside, shortly.

This demonstration shows how to sleep in an ice hotel. The foundation is a large block of ice. It's covered by a four-inch-thick insulating pad that is in turn covered with furs. On top of that, customers tuck into down sleeping bags. Additional blankets are available to top it off, for those who still need more insulation.

This is an ordinary room, which cost about $400 per night in 2004.

The suites were somewhat more expensive.

This is the only suite with two rooms, and the only one with a fireplace.

There's a joke here. It's from an advertising slogan for a deodorant.
«Assez fort pour lui, mais conçu pour elle.»
"Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman."

The Club.
Here we find the hotel's other fireplace.

These folks seem to prefer the main room, despite an attentive Viking in the alcove.

Oh yes, there's internet access too.

The stage is never empty for long.

Of course there's a dining room. And a bar.


The shot glass is made of ice, which simplifies dish washing. As we boarded the bus to return to the city, we noticed a group of optimistic tourists. They were carefully guarding their "glasses" as souvenirs. I wonder how long they really expected them to last.