During my travels to Quebec City, I had the opportunity to attend the Quebec Winter Carnaval. This included participating in several activities, such as snowshoeing and dog sledding, but also an inordinate amount of touring and sightseeing. But for an adrenaline fix at the Carnaval, many spectators flocked to the city’s harbor to watch the CMQ Canoe Race.
And it’s not your everyday canoe race. This race is on the St. Lawrence River in the dead of winter, which is strewn with mini-icebergs and ice slabs floating on the competitive water’s surface. So, what I had envisioned as a canoe race wasn’t anywhere near reality; it was the pinnacle of sporting events, and extremely popular for Canadians – nationally televised (on the same day as the Super Bowl XLV, keep in mind). It also invited some of Canada’s elite athletes to compete.
The race challenged teams to pile into a canoe and row to checkpoints on the river (a large hanging yellow orb had to be touched by each team). There were three divisions within the competition: men’s professional, women’s professional, and amateur. The women’s and amateur divisions were only required to do one lap, while the men’s professional required two laps.
To view the start of the race, click here.
The winter elements battle the canoers as they row up the St. Lawrence – snow, cold cross winds, etc. Greater still, the teams must pick up their boats and drag it over ice obstacles: Unbelievably difficult to do when you take into consideration the St. Lawrence tides. As the water recedes, the teams are essentially dragged further down the river. Imagine two laps after accomplishing the exhausting initial loop.
Watch this video to understand how difficult it can be for the canoe teams as they row back up the river, click here.
The canoe race is just a slice of what Quebec City has to offer visitors during the Winter Carnaval. This icy North American oasis is the destination for winter sports, and has a general appreciation for snow and ice. The citizens of Quebec and many other Canadians work hard to host tens of thousands of people over several weekends in February – just to show the world that winter can be loved.
For more photos of the canoe race, click here.
(This article first appeared in Snowshoe Magazine.)