Bon­homme more than mas­cot

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL - By David John­ston

BON­HOMME Car­naval, mas­cot of the Que­bec Winter Car­ni­val, Canada’s largest pre-Len­ten cel­e­bra­tion, is turn­ing 60 this year, mean­ing he is old enough to pack it in and start draw­ing early on his Que­bec Pen­sion Plan ben­e­fits if he wants.

Fat chance of that, though. Le dude Bon­homme has got his se­cond wind.

Like the car­ni­val it­self, he has re­bounded through the typ­i­cal ups and downs of mid-life. Feel­ing un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated back in 2004, Bon­homme went out and joined a union — Lo­cal 503 of the Tra­vailleurs unis de l’ali­men­ta­tion, af­fil­i­ated with the Fed­er­a­tion des tra­vailleurs du Que­bec. In fact, it was the two dozen men who wear the Bon­homme out­fit who union­ized — and who abruptly left the union two years later in 2006, un­happy with the ex­pe­ri­ence.

And then came the Ma­clean’s af­fair. In 2010, Canada’s na­tional news­magazine put a pic­ture of Bon­homme on its cover to il­lus­trate a story about how Que­bec was the most cor­rupt prov­ince in Canada. Bon­homme was de­picted hold­ing a suit­case over­flow­ing with cash.

No­body at Ma­clean’s re­al­ized Bon- homme was a trade­mark prop­erty of a mu­nic­i­pal winter car­ni­val, and not some folk­loric mas­cot em­blem­atic of Que­bec so­ci­ety more broadly. Ma­clean’s owner, Rogers Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, was forced to ne­go­ti­ate an out-of-court sttle­ment.

The fact Ma­clean’s didn’t re­al­ize who Bon­homme re­ally was re­flects the on­go­ing ex­is­tence of a cul­tural two soli­tudes in Canada. But in­side of Que­bec, in­clud­ing English Que­bec, there is no doubt who this smil­ing snow­man mas­cot is, and what he rep­re­sents. He is truly a beloved fig­ure.

I saw this very clearly for my­self last Fe­bru­ary, dur­ing the open­ing week­end of the car­ni­val, which ev­ery year spans three week­ends over two weeks be­fore Lent. This year, the car­ni­val opened yes­ter­day and runs to Feb. 16.

I was there at the open­ing in front of the ice cas­tle on the Plains of Abra­ham when Bon­homme was in­tro­duced on stage. Bon­homme pro­ceeded to do a high kick with his right leg, a move he is known for, and the out­door crowd in the mi­nus-20 de­gree cold let out a roar of ap­proval.

But if Bon­homme has got his groove back, so, too, has the car­ni­val it­self, which has re­cov­ered from a slow and dif­fi­cult man­age­ment tran­si­tion over the past decade. The over­whelm­ing con­sen­sus is the car­ni­val is now big­ger and bet­ter than ever.

It has, for one thing, been re­con­fig­ured to ap­peal more to fam­i­lies. The hub of car­ni­val ac­tiv­ity these days is the east end of the Plains of Abra­ham, up near the Citadel, where a lit­tle car­ni­val mid­way is set up. At the cen­tre of it is the ice cas­tle, where open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies are held.

Around it, in all di­rec­tions, are ice

Le Dude. Bon­homme Car­naval has been the mas­cot of the Que­bec City winter carni

val, Canada’s larges pre-Len­ten cel­e­bra­tion, since 1954.

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