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Quebec Winter Carnival: Bonhomme's sweltering snowsuit

It was a merry fete celebrating pea soup and tourtière. Revellers rejoiced in the culture of les habitants when the Quebec Winter Carnival first began in 1894. In 1955, residents of Quebec City revived the festival with new traditions in the old city. Skilled canoeists raced on the half-frozen St. Lawrence and artists built ice sculptures. But over the years purists say Le Carnaval de Québec has strayed too far from its roots, using gimmicks from Bonhomme to Brooke Shields to attract crowds.

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The carnival's mascot Le Bonhomme Carnaval is jolly despite his elaborate astronaut-like suit. The CBC's John Fisher profiles the puffy roly-poly in this radio clip. He stands well over six feet tall in his getup that has a huge plastic head with a hidden microphone. Bonhomme's voice booms as he welcomes countless revellers. He's the man of the festival, the greeter for all activities. But in his heavy costume he overheats and must attend indoor events in 20-minute intervals.

On the other hand, freezing gusts at events on the Plains of Abraham don't bother Bonhomme in his sweltering snowsuit. Plus he has a hollow walking cane: The top can be unscrewed to fill with hot soup. What is in your cane, Bonhomme is asked? Perhaps something "much stronger than soup. Might be called 'caribou?'"
• Caribou ingredients vary but the concoction often consists of port wine and alcohol. Carnival-goers dink from hollow canes filled with caribou for warmth as they walk.

• Bonhomme was created with the revival of the Quebec Carnival in 1955.

• When Bonhomme arrives one month prior to Carnaval, the mayor gives him keys to the city. Bonhomme and the official carnival song always open the event.

• Unlike in the 1970s and '80s when carnival organizers encouraged revellers to carry caribou, liquor regulations tightened at festivities in the 1990s.

• Carnival fare draws on Quebec's historic roots. It includes the traditional food of pre-20th century Francophone farmers les habitants, such as pea soup, paté, tortière (spicy meat pie), ham, fèves au lard (baked beans with pork) and maple sugar pie.

• Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608 at the site of a former Stadacona village. The word Quebec comes from an Algonquin term meaning "narrowing of the river."

• The Plains of Abraham is the location above the old city where in 1759 British troops surprised and defeated the French. The battle led to English control over Canada. Opposing generals Wolfe and Montcalm both died during the conflict.

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Jan. 21, 1970
Reporter: John Fisher
Duration: 4:24

Last updated: February 12, 2013

Page consulted on November 4, 2014

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