Placemaking is a year-round passion in Québec. With average January temperatures of -13 degrees C (9°F) and lots of snow, people in the Canadian province of Québec could understandably choose to hide indoors for the winter. When I visited this wintery city, however, it quickly became clear that residents have embraced the cold. Here’s how a few spots in Québec that have made Placemaking cool.
Winter Festivals in Québec: When life gives you snow—dance!
Québec City’s famous Carnaval is the grand-daddy of winter festivals. Aiming to become the world’s biggest winter festival, Carnaval has invigorated and inspired the city for sixty-one years. While Carnaval festivities and programming have recently spread to outlying neighborhoods, the main action takes place on the Plains of Abraham in “le monde de Bonhomme” (Bonhomme—the smiling, belted, traditional Québecois snowman—is the festival’s mascot). I visited the festivities on the outskirts of Québec City on Troisième (Third) Avenue, where I sampled la tire—maple syrup that has been cooked to a gooey thickness, which is then poured onto fresh snow and hardened into taffy. With this maple sweetness on a stick, I strolled down Troisième Avenue while people played street games all around me. Music filled the streets, and colorful sleds laden with children slid across the snow in every direction. And this street party lasts for three weeks!
There during Carnaval’s opening weekend, I witnessed the exciting opening night spectacle that culminated in a fireworks display and outdoor dance party. Dancing is an inclusive sport in Québec, I learned, as I joined the celebratory crowds of families with children, groups of teenagers, seniors, locals, and visitors. These requisite dance parties also ensue during the event’s two nighttime parades, which take place on opposite ends of the city on the second and third weekends of Carnaval.
When life gives you ice—make a luge!
Just as Carnaval in Québec City brings its community together, smaller villages across Québec also use winter festivals as community development and Placemaking tools. The village of St. Côme, for example, which sits on the edge of the Laurentian Mountains in the region of Lanaudière, hosts one of the oldest winter ice-carving festivals in the world. For this annual event, called St. Côme en glace, local residents draw up plans for their ice sculptures and submit them to the festival’s organizing committee. Then, after calculating the size of the proposed sculpture, the committee delivers the required blocks of ice, taken from a nearby river, to the front of their houses.
Over the course of the festival—which takes place from late-January to early-February—sculptors work diligently on their masterpieces, so neighbors can see not only the completed sculptures, but also witness the creative process. During this time, the village square boasts an enormous ice slide and holds numerous concerts, firework displays, and ice hockey tournaments. There are even more festival events that take place at the nearby Val St. Côme ski hill.
When I visited the festival on opening night, the excitement was palpable. Traditional Québecois music played while sculptors carved ice with chainsaws, their completed sculptures showcased with bright spotlights. Before whooshing down the giant ice slide, I sampled local Caribou—a Québec specialty that mixes brandy, vodka, sherry and port (no one shared their recipes, though, as they seem to be closely-guarded family secrets).
Either way, attache ta tuque!
The main lessons from my trip to Québec: (1) Embracing winter makes the long season seem shorter; (2) Don’t be afraid to try new sports (ice canoeing on the St. Lawrence River, anyone? Competing in the World Snowshoe Championships?); and (3) Take the indoors outdoors—build an outdoor ice bar, launch an outdoor dance party, and attache ta tuque!
* Attache ta tuque! is a French Canadian expression, loosely translated as ‘hold onto your hats!’; a tuque is a winter ski hat.
Jane Snyder is a travel writer and environmental & entrepreneurial project manager who writes about local, environmental and active travel, often focusing on travel with children, teens and tweens. For more on winter cities, check out our other recent guest post by Jay Walljasper, How to Keep Cold Weather Cities Cool.