Fun in the snow…Québec Winter Carnival!

To experience a true winter wonderland there is no better place than Québec in February…perfect for the young and the young at heart!

It may be cold in Canada, but they sure know how to use the weather to their advantage. For two weeks each year, the snow and ice so familiar of a Canadian winter transform Québec City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, into a magical winter wonderland, as visitors and locals wrap up to celebrate the Québec Winter Carnival.


Celebrated in 2015 between January 30th and February 15th, the Québec City Winter Festival is the largest winter carnival in the world. Anyone who missed out on a white Christmas or who just can’t get enough of the white stuff will not be disappointed, for you can’t help but get swept up, rosy-cheeked, in the joie de vivre of this huge outdoor party.

Perhaps the most important feature of the festival is the shimmering Bonhomme Ice Palace, built from some 5,000 blocks of ice, and home to a maze of towers and exhibits as well as a magnificent son et lumiere (light and sound) show. Bonhomme himself is the ubiquitous carnival mascot, a large smiling snowman with a red stocking cap who will welcome you in both French and English (as is common practice in Québec) and pop up cheerily at various points throughout your stay.

Also unmissable during this 2-week period are the colourful night parades, when some half a million spectators brave the sub-zero temperatures to line the streets and watch marching bands, floats and clowns pass by. Pile on the layers and huddle within the crowds and it will be an unforgettable few hours.

If however you’d rather be snuggled up in your ice hotel and wrapped in a bearskin by night – which is entirely possible, given that they build a new Ice Hotel each year for the very purpose – there are plenty of activities to enjoy by day. You may not rush to join in the snow bath, which is exactly as it sounds except you wear nothing more than a swimsuit, but you should certainly catch the legendary canoe race on the St Lawrence River. Not to be thwarted if the water is frozen, teams may resort to pulling their wooden canoes across the ice rather than through the water, and the race will inevitably be completed to much merriment and cheering.

It goes without saying than anyone with kids cannot go wrong by bringing them to Québec during the festival. There are countless activities to keep the little ones entertained, including a huge Children’s Village at The Plains of Abraham, former site of the battle in which the British fought the French and conquered Canada. With intricate snow sculptures lining the entrance, this wonderful playground for families offers dogsled and sleigh rides, snow slides and tunnels, snowmobiling, aerial trampolining, an obstacle course, an ice climbing wall, and more.

Other activities going on throughout the festival, for adults and children alike, include snow rafting, the opportunity to spend the night in a tepee or to learn ice fishing, and sampling of traditional Canadian food (the chocolate crepes always go down well).

The list of entertainment goes on, but needless to say this is one way to enjoy all that winter has to offer and see this usually dark and cold time of year in a completely different light. Take the kids or just go and play in the snow yourself – just remember to pack the woollies and you may find that you don’t really notice the cold too much after all.

Cactus offers French courses in Quebec City and also in Montreal.

Quebecois French versus ‘France’ French

French Canada, located just beyond New York on the eastern side of Canada, can cater to your needs. But do they speak the same variety of French as in France, you ask? Sacré bleu! Not quite. In Quebec, Québecois is spoken, and yes, there are differences. Before you go, let’s look at some of the history and the variations.

The origin of Quebecois French is from Classical French in the 17th and 18th centuries, brought to “New France” by French colonists. The influence of the area began to play a major role in the evolution of the language – that is, interaction and contact with Native Americans and their languages plus the different foliage and fauna gave way to new words. This, combined with the isolation from Europe and the fact that French settlers retained the older pronunciations, gave way to a new dialect.

One simple analogy would be to say that Quebec French = American/Canadian English and France French = England/UK English, but even that can be misleading because the differences in Québecois and France French are even larger.

Some fun differences:

‘France’ French: parking/parker

Québecois French: stationnement/stationer

FF: le weekend

QF: la fin de semaine

FF: Je t’en prie

QF: bienvenue

Along with different pronunciations, idioms, slang, the speed of the spoken language, swear words and exclusive cultural references are definitely different in Quebec than in France. This, however, does not mean that you won’t be able to engage in the culture when you visit Quebec. As long as you try, the local Canadian will most likely appreciate your efforts.

Of course, English is sometime welcome, too. If someone starts a conversation with “Bonjour hello”, as if it is one word, they are actually inviting you to use whichever language you prefer. So even if you haven’t been on your French language course for long, and you just want to try out a bit of the language, you will be able to speak English in the more urban areas with ease.

Cactus Language offer French courses in the UK, New York, France and Canada, including Quebec!

Top 5 French course destinations this autumn

1. Montreal

Montreal is a fascinating city with a cosmopolitan feel and a wide range of cultural offerings. Summer in the city can be very hot, and winter extremely cold. For this reason, September-November is an ideal time to go and experience what the city has to offer. As well as the usual sights and attractions, there are also an array of festivals and events to enjoy during the autumn-time, including: the Escales Improbables Festival, POP Montreal (21st-25th September), the OFF Jazz Festival (7th-15th October) and the Festival of New Cinema (12th – 23rd October).

2. Paris

To be honest, Paris is a city that is buzzing with activity all year round. If you visit in autumn though, you will probably find fewer tourists, shorter queues, and less expensive accommodation. It’s also one of the prettiest times to visit, as the trees change colour and the fallen leaves dance at your feet – it’ll really indulge your image of Paris at its romantic best. Festival and event wise, Paris is jam-packed with options throughout September, October and November, but some of the highlights include the Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), held from 17-18th September and introduced to allow visitors a peek behind the doors of the 14,000 buildings that are usually closed to the public and the self-explanatory ‘Fête des Jardins’ (24th-25th September). Visit the Whatsonwhen website for full Paris events listings.

3. Guadeloupe


If you’re not quite ready to get the winter coat out and contemplate turning the heating back on, why not extend your summer by heading to Guadeloupe this autumn. Guadeloupe is a beautiful country located in the French West Indies, with stunning scenery and average temperatures of more than 24 degrees centigrade all year round. The hurricane season in this part of the world can sometimes extend to mid October, so late October and November are good times to go.

4. Bordeaux


Anyone heading to Bordeaux this autumn will have a huge range of activities to choose from. This vibrant university city is at the heart of one of France’s most prestigious wine-growing regions, and September and October events include the Fête Du Vin Nouveau, when inhabitants celebrate the new vintage, and the Marathon du Medoc, a sporting event with a twist! Also to be recommended are the Journées du Patrimoine, when Bordeaux opens its wealth of historical sites to the public, the Foire aux Plaisirs Funfair (October-November), a long-standing fair in the city’s Place des Quinconces, and also the Bordeaux Opera Season, with scores of performances by the acclaimed National Opera of Bordeaux.

5. Lyon


Lyon is often known as the gastronomic capital of France, but the huge range of events being held in the city this autumn shows that its talents don’t stop here. Throughout September and October visitors can attend, amongst other things, the Tupiniers Pottery Fair, the Dance Biennial, Les Musicades music festival, les Salons des Plaisirs Créatifs Art Expo, the Red Carpet Antiques Festival, the International New Generation Film Festival and the Equita Horse Fair, one of Europe’s premier riding events.

Please visit the Cactus Language website for full listings of French courses in France, Martinique and Canada.