PHS French Students Experience Winter Carnival in Quebec City

Earlier this month, a group of Pawling High School students said goodbye to America and bonjour to Canada as they traveled north for an international field trip to Quebec City. Led by French teacher Mme. Mirela Spinelli, nearly 40 students and their chaperones embarked on a journey to experience Quebec’s renowned Winter Carnival and immerse themselves in the 400-year-old Francophone capital’s history and culture.

The four-day excursion began in the early hours of February 1, when the 36 students and 6 chaperones departed Pawling High School by bus at 6:00 a.m. The 450-mile trip took roughly 10 hours, but students arrived excited to delve into the packed itinerary. “We did everything we planned, and more,” explains Mme. Spinelli. “Every activity was exciting and carefully chosen to provide exposure to the history of the city, its culture, customs, old and new traditions, and most of all, the joy of living, in order to create long lasting, beautiful memories.”

Upon arrival, students were able to stretch their legs as they explored Old Quebec. They strolled St-Louis and St-Jean Streets, admired local architecture, and were able to see one of Canada’s Grand Railway Hotels, the Chateau Frontenac. Later that evening, students were able to wander the Quartier Petit Champlain, the oldest shopping district in North America. While there, they also had a chance to traverse the Escalier casse-cou (the Breakneck Steps) Quebec City’s oldest public stairway, built in 1635.

The following day would allow the students to explore the Parc de la Chute Montmorency, which boasts water falls higher than Niagara Falls. Afterward, they would tour Hotel de Glace, the first and only true Ice Hotel in North America. The structure is composed of 30,000 tons of snow, and 500 tons of ice, and features a chapel, a bar, a grand hall, and an ice slide. “Visiting the ice hotel was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says PHS principal and chaperone Helen Callan. “The beauty and artistry was breathtaking. At times, it was almost hard to believe that it was made from ice and snow.”

Later that day, the group visited the Village Vacances Valcartier Winter Park for snow rafting and tubing before touring the sugar shack at the Érablière de Lac Beauport. There, students would enjoy a family style dinner, learn traditional folk dances and French folk songs, and accompany a local musician with wooden spoons.

On the third day in Quebec City the group headed to the Plains of Abraham Museum for a re-enactment of the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a pivotal conflict of the Seven Years’ War. Afterward, students were able to slide on the famous Glissades de la Promenade Dufferin, a world famous toboggan slide. The group then enjoyed a guided tour of the Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Québec, one of the oldest Catholic churches in North America.

One of the highlights of the trip would come later that evening, when the group experienced the Carnaval de Québec. Students entered the festival, which offered a multitude of activities, entertainment, and sporting competitions, followed by the Carnival Night Parade. Students had a chance to visit Bonhomme’s Ice Palace, sample the Quebec specialty poutine (French fries and cheese with gravy), and observe sculptures from the International Snow Sculpture competition. “We chose to do this trip in February, because we wanted to experience the Carnaval de Québec, the biggest winter carnival in the world,” explains Spinelli. “We were particularly excited to see the night parade, which was a spectacular nordic celebration with mystic creatures, marvelous floats, and joyful participants.”

On the final day of the excursion, the group had one last northern adventure to undertake. They would visit Chenil La Poursuite, where they would experience an authentic dog sled adventure. Students met the team of huskies, learned basic techniques and safety, and thrilled to a ride through wooded trails. “Almost everybody’s favorite activity was dog sledding,” says Spinelli. “Majestic huskies, tall pine trees, silent forest, fresh falling snow – it was a rare opportunity and will be an unforgettable experience for everyone.”

After four packed days, the group bid Quebec City au revoir, and began the long journey back to Pawling on February 4. Upon their return later that evening, students and chaperones were admittedly exhausted, but they had shared a multitude of memories to last a lifetime. “I would like to thank the other chaperones, Mrs. Pritchard, Mrs. Clisby, Mr. Light, Mr. Malone, and especially Mrs. Callan, for being a part of this trip,” says Spinelli. “I would attribute the success of this trip mostly to our wonderful students, whose good behavior exceeded all expectations, and to the leadership of our amazing chaperones. We were one big happy family.” Helen Callan added: “The biggest thank you goes to Madame Spinelli. Our students benefit when teachers go above and beyond to plan exciting learning opportunities for them.”