A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Festivals

By Candice Rozario
Lead photo credit: Destination Canada

When the Canadian winter comes around carpeting our environs, it’s met by mixed reactions. Some marvel at the snowy surroundings, while others begrudgingly break out snow shovels. But underneath these behaviours, is a covert pride in our collective tenacity to withstand the harsh climate. This pride has snowballed into winter festivals across the Great White North; and re:view has picked our favourites. Read on to find out where you can celebrate the best of winter.

Photo credit: Destination Canada

Québec Carnaval, Québec City


The seven-foot tall snowman, Bonhomme, is synonymous with Québec City’s Carnaval, which was first celebrated in 1894. Bonhomme made his first appearance in 1955, and since then, Carnaval kicks off with the mayor of Québec city handing over the keys of the city to this friendly mascot.

Ice Canoe Racing 

One of Carnaval’s popular (also, oldest and extremely gruelling) events is the ice canoe race across the Saint Lawrence River. The story goes that the sport is derived from families competing to bag the mail delivery contract. Today, teams have to haul their wooden canoes over the river’s mixed terrain of jagged ice, frigid water, and slush for the much coveted Carnaval Trophy.


Forget hot chocolate, Quebeckers rely on Caribou, a local drink, to keep warm. It’s served in shot glasses moulded out of ice. The drink is sold exclusively by Québec’s liquor board who unsurprisingly make the bulk of sales during Carnaval. Though Quebecers have been guzzling down caribou for decades now, the drink’s commercial manufacturers remain tight-lipped about the original recipe. Well, no one’s really complaining when two shots of Caribou is all you need to sport a grin as wide as Bonhomme’s.

Photo credit: Ottawa Tourism

Winterlude, Ottawa


Ottawa gets bragging rights when the Rideau Canal transforms into the world’s largest skating rink in winter. Skating here is undoubtedly the trademark experience at Winterlude, the winter fest organized by the Department of Canadian Heritage. Winterlude turns the season’s icy conditions into heart-warming festivities.

Ice Sculptures

Winterlude is dotted with ice sculptures; you can watch these showpieces come to ice, err, life at the carving competitions. Interestingly, when an ice sculptor makes a mistake or accidently chips off a piece of ice, they add on a piece of ice and continue working! Make sure you catch these works of art before they melt. 

Bed Racing

At the Accora Village Bed race, you don’t just make your bed and lie in it, you race it as well! Teams also decorate their beds and collect funds for the Kiwanis Club of Ottawa. At the event, participants flaunt their beds at the parade of beds and then follow it by the race on Dow’s Lake vying for the fastest bed, best decorated bed and best fundraiser. Over the years, participants have decked their beds and themselves in some chuckle-worthy costumes. There’s really no getting up on the wrong side of bed at this Winterlude contest.

Ice Dragon Boat Race

Another race on Dow’s Lake that you’ll want to watch, or maybe even participate in, is the Ice Dragon Boat Race. In this event, teams use spiked ice-picks to propel a boat along the ice-topped Dow’s Lake. Though a recent addition to the Winterlude repertoire, it has quickly grown into a crowd favourite. Its second year saw almost double the number of participants register for the event, and the volume of spectators continue to follow suit.

Photo credit : Eva Blue (left) and Freddy Arciniegas © Arcpixel (right)
Sourced via Tourisme Montréal

Montréal en Lumière


This festival is packed to the seams with illuminating experiences. Renowned chefs and wine-makers celebrate the culinary world through food tastings, workshops, and dining itineraries. Alternative appetites are satiated by performing arts, zip lining, viewing the city from a Ferris wheel and, of course, true to the festival’s name, light installations. Montreal signs off this festival with artistic élan by way of Nuit Blanche—a free all-night art festival.