Everything you need to know about the Québec Winter Carnival

February 2, 2024

While some may think of the harsh Canadian winter as a time to head inside and wait for the return of the warmer days, most residents of Québec City have a different approach. So much so that they created a two-week long festival to celebrate the winter season! The Québec City Winter Carnival is held every year, right in the middle of winter, and hundreds of thousands of people attend its many outdoor activities. With bright decorations, ice sculptures, a majestic ice palace and the magical backdrop that is Old Québec City, it has to be said even the chilliest of visitors will come to love the frigid February weather! 

 From 2025, those taking a winter cruise on the Saint Lawrence River will get the chance to participate in this amazing event. But what makes it such an unmissable experience? Let’s find out.

 In this article, you will learn: 

  • The history of the Carnival 
  • What visitors can expect when attending the Québec Winter Carnival 
  • What to eat at the Québec Winter Carnival 
  • The mysterious identity of Bonhomme Carnaval


A brisk walk through history


The story of the Carnival began over a hundred years ago when a group of businessmen, led by Québec’s premier Mr. Lotbinière, decided to brighten up dark winter days and to try and attract tourists to the area. An ice palace was built, ice sculptures were designed and an intrepid canoe race across the frozen Saint Lawrence River was organized. 

Despite the event’s roaring success, the Carnival was put on ice (pardon the pun!) as the economic crisis and war disrupted normal life for Canadians everywhere. However, les Québécois cannot be kept inside for long. In 1955, the mayor of Québec reinstated the Carnival, giving the keys to the city to its newly unveiled mascot: Bonhomme Carnaval.


Frozen in time: the Carnival’s flagship events


The original program was maintained, and participants today can expect a schedule packed with entertainment, exciting races and fun family activities. 

 The traditional opening show itself is quite a production, with over 50 artists, music, dance, pyrotechnics and floats. Other flagship events include the iconic ice palace, the long-awaited night parade and the exciting canoe race across the river. Not for the faint-hearted! 

 What about the little ones? The Carnival is very much a family affair, with treasure hunts, ice climbing structures and even urban ziplining. The icing on the cake: hilly Québec City is turned into a “Slide City” as various streets are closed off to traffic and turned into giant slides for all to enjoy.

 Snow-ing what to eat at the Carnival

It’s no secret that les québécois like their food, and the Carnival is no exception. Visitors to the event can warm up with a variety of local products. From spiked coffees (we won’t tell if you won’t!) to classic French onion soup and poutine, there’s something for everyone on the event’s site, and some staples do come back year after year. 

 Sticky maple taffy is at the top of the list of items to sample. Tourists with a sweet tooth will love this maple-flavored lollipop, obtained by pouring hot maple syrup over snow and by picking the hardened taffy with a popsicle stick. Beavertails are also extremely popular. You’ll be relieved to hear no beavers were ever harmed in the making of beavertails! This delicious snack is made of hot fried dough and served with a variety of sugary toppings. 

 Another unmissable local experience: drinking warm Caribou. Again, only the name is animal-based, and this hot concoction is a mixture of red wine, hard liquor, spices and sugar. The exact recipe, just like the identity of Bonhomme Carnaval, is on a strict need-to-know basis.

 Who is the mysterious Bonhomme Carnaval?

First unveiled in 1955 as the event was reinstated, the official mascot of the Québec Winter Carnival is described as 400 lb of packed snow. Each year, the enigmatic character comes out for the duration of the Carnival wearing a red tuque and a traditional arrow sash, and displays a joie de vivre that’s typical of the Québec people.  The tradition of handing the keys to the city to the happy Bonhomme marks the official start of the Carnival, to the delight of the crowds attending the ceremony. It’s worth noting that the identity of the person hiding underneath Bonhomme’s suit is a closely guarded secret.

The Québec Winter Carnival perfectly embodies the fun, generous and resilient nature of the people of Québec. Despite harsh conditions, locals have managed to turn winter into a time to be celebrated and enjoyed, and a trip to this part of the world is bound to lift anyone’s spirits. And if not, a small glass of warm Caribou and a bite of poutine should do the trick!

Find out more about the Cruise the Saint Lawrence sustainable development guidelines on our sustainability page.