Bonhomme more than mascot
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.