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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Quebec Winter Carnival of 1894 : the transformation of the city and the festival in the nineteenth century Abbott, Frank Albert


The ambiguous nature and the importance of ancient traditions adapting to modernization are very evident in the celebration of the winter carnivals held in Montreal between 1883 and 1889 and especially in Quebec City in 1894. In looking at the motivations of their organizers, it is possible to see a primarily economic goal: the attraction of large numbers of American tourists to help the local economy in the slow winter season by offering to them "cultural" spectacles of French and English Canada. According to the newspapers of the period, these new carnivals had no connection at all with the older cyclical and religious celebration of Carnival-Lent-Easter which were well-known and celebrated with enthusiasm in New France from the seventeenth century onwards. In fact the opposite was true. These events were seen as occasions for the amateur athletic clubs of the French and especially the English-speaking middle class of Quebec to put on spectacles of their winter sports like curling, snowshoeing and hockey. Along with this went the expectation of decorous behaviour within the limits of Victorian morality and an end to the traditional public drunkenness and boisterous behaviour traditionally associated with such occasions. The centrepiece of this event was the evening torch-light parade in and around the large ice palace, a tradition which the English speaking organizers of the five Montreal carnivals of the 1880's had borrowed from winter festivals of the Imperial Russian court. Paradoxically, this has survived to become one of most famous symbols of the present Carnaval de Quebec. The participation of middle class French Canadians and even the tacit support of the Catholic Church, one of the most persistent foes of the older carnival celebrations, both contributed immeasurably to the success of the new festival. This can be explained by three related phenomena: 1) A change in social mores in general between the beginning and the end of the nineteenth century gave the Church a large voice over the lives of French Canadians. 2) A greater process of regulation of the society, and especially the city, was reflected in and even responsible for the disappearance of several old community festivals of the past like the carnival. It is not yet possible to say conclusively whether the authorities suppressed these old festivals or whether the public simply abandoned them, though it appears to be a combination of both. 3) The economic transformation of the city of Quebec from a commercial centre to an industrial city, with the consequent social changes. Thus the study of the carnival raises cultural and social questions. By studying the history of the changes in the observance of the carnival and in who observed its celebration, it is possible to understand a little more about the mentality of the urban population of the time and to begin to understand their responses to the other changes taking place in the society around them.

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