National Geographic : 1958 Jan
Winter Brings Carnival Time to Quebec Hardy French Canadians Turn Their Frosty Climate into an Asset by Staging a Colorful Pageant in Ice and Snow BY KATHLEEN REVIS National Geographic Magazine Staff With Photographs by the Author T HE February snow-soft, fluffy, sound less-fell steadily from a leaden sky as if bent on obliterating the grand old Canadian city of Quebec. Even the church bells calling devout French Canadians to Sun day Mass sounded muffled and far away through the falling snow. Great drifts clogged almost deserted side streets. Reaching the Plains of Abraham, I discovered a white, wind-whipped emptiness. On the St. Lawrence River, 300 feet below, nothing moved but jagged, sullen ice floes. Winter, I thought, has conquered Quebec. City Makes Winter a Partner in Fun Then I found that winter to Quebec, though an unrelenting adversary, is also an old playmate, bringing such fascinating forms of fun as curling, ice fishing, and racing on the frozen river in ice canoes, strange boats that slide over the floes like sleds. By early afternoon the snow had stopped. The Plains of Abraham now rang with the shouts and laughter of children shooting down the slopes on skis, sleds, and flying saucers. Sleighs and carioles jingled along the curv ing roads. Beside Dufferin Terrace ice skaters swirled to recorded music, while screaming tobogganists hurtled down the Chateau Fron tenac slide (next page). I could even make out the merry strains of "Carnaval, Mardi Gras, Carnaval," the catchy musical theme of the Winter Carnival that each year puts the forces of Jack Frost to work for the pleasure of the city and thou sands of visitors. Quebec's winter festivities date from last century. City fathers proclaimed the famous 1894 ice and snow carnival "to enliven the monotony of our dull season." In pursuit of this goal, every cold weather pastime-from dancing to dog sledding-now entices the winter-weary Quebecois from his fireside and the pleasure-bent vacationer to one of North America's most picturesque cities.* During Bonhomme Carnaval's reign (pages 76 and 77), I saw skiers slalom down the slopes of the Citadel and colorful floats wind through the gates of the old walls. I crowded into hockey rinks where flashing skates threw up showers of ice flakes; I watched nocturnal dancers whirl in the squares while fireworks etched vivid patterns in the sky. I had arrived on February 3, just in time for the 44th International Bonspiel that got the carnival into congenial high gear (pages 78 and 80). This famous curling tourney drew 128 four-man rinks, or teams, to the capital of Quebec Province. Curlers are notoriously addicted to bright attire, and bonspiel headquarters at the sedate Chateau Frontenac blazed with unaccustomed color. One team, the Hamilton Thistles, was resplendent in yellow pants and tigerskin shirts, with tiger tails dangling down the back. Scots Brought Curling to Canada While the origins of the 400-year-old game are lost in the mists of Scottish history, its North American debut traces back to 1768 when it was introduced by Scottish regiments quartered in Quebec. Since then it has spread throughout Canada; until recent years, the sport has been most popular in the western provinces, where the winters are long and nat ural ice is dependable. The game long since hurdled the border as well, and the United States now boasts more than 100 full-fledged clubs and some 12,000 active curlers. Curling is an ice sport somewhat akin to shuffleboard. Each man slides two granite stones along a 130-foot alley toward a cir cular target painted into the ice. Teammates armed with brooms sweep the path of the oncoming stone in an attempt to influence its course and speed. The team whose stone or stones are nearest to the target's center at completion of an end, or inning, scores ac cordingly. *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Sea to Lakes on the St. Lawrence," by George W. Long, September, 1950; and "Quebec's Forests, Farms, and Frontiers," by Andrew H. Brown, October, 1949.