The Montreal Carnival
from Harper's Bazaar March 8,1884
To give a bird's-eye view of our Carnival is difficult in the limited space at our disposal, and yet convey any fair idea of the hurrying to and fro, the cheery jingling of sleigh-bells, the shouts of tobogganers, the smile on every face, the friendly grasping of hands, and the general air of holiday-making to which we have all so completely given ourselves up this last week.
Montreal, perhaps, more than any of our cities, by virtue of its situation and surroundings, its pure air and healthy out-door sports, possesses attractions which have made it the one place in Canada where a winter carnival may be most fully carried out. If our first, in 1883, was a great success, we hope our second, in 1884, has been a greater. It has had this difference: we have for the first time met his Excellency the Governor-General and Lady Lansdowne. They arrived, with their suite, on Monday, and have since put in a good honest week's work. They have been present at every ball, every masquerade, every tobogganing hill; visited colleges, convents, and schools; received and replied to addresses; attended organ recitals, skated, been photographed; and, in fact, done everything (and done everything graciously and pleasantly) that an exacting people have desired. They have left us, and by their courtesy and affability have established a popularity which will stand them in good stead through all their term of office.
Looking back on the week, the two things for which perhaps we may take to ourselves most credit are our Ice Palace and the masquerade at the Victoria Rink. The former is castellated in design, 160 feet long (larger they tell us than the historical palaces of Russia), and contains 15,000 blocks of ice. Solitary, it stands in a square, directly opposite the Windsor Hotel. Viewed in the daytime, every block emitting its prismatic ray, dazzling and sparkling with crystal brilliancy as the sun lights on it, it presents an appearance which is completely fascinating, and has been visited, admired, and wondered at by hundreds every hour.
At night it is illuminated from within by the iridescent light of electric lamps, and on Wednesday, when it was attacked and defended by snow-shoers, it was like a scene from fairy-land, and like nothing else. Sixteen hundred men, dressed in blanket coats, with their respective club colors in stockings, sash, and toque, surrounded it, and for half an hour rockets, Roman shells, and balls of fire flew in every direction, while red, blue, and green lights were burned at intervals, each changeful rainbow hue giving some new and brilliant effect. After the capitulation victors and vanquished alike joined in one long line, and, with torches high in air, marched toward the Mountain. Taking a zigzag course they reached the summit, where they again sent off fire-works, and turning, wended their serpentine way back, looking in, the distance like a thread of gold.
As to the Rink, it is itself the finest in Canada, and the masquerade on Thursday has never been surpassed in this country. The ice was in splendid condition, and completely covered with graceful skaters in every imaginable fancy costume. There was a large ice temple in the centre, flags flying everywhere, gay music from the band; "roll and double roll," figures 8 and 3, "grape-vine," waltzing backward and forward— the merry maskers skated round in seemingly unending streams, making the whole place one moving mass of ever-changing form and color.
Little of a private nature has taken place during the week in the way of entertainment. True, there have been two balls, both highly representative. One was given by the officers of the garrison artillery, with decorations of a military character; the other by the Master of the Montreal Hunt, with sporting decorations; but time generally has been more given to out-door than to in-door amusement Sleighing has been enjoyed to its fullest extent, and everything, from a six-in-hand with postilions to a box "sled" with dogs, has had the right of way through our streets. Tobogganing is perhaps the most distinctive and unique of our sports, and has most excited the enthusiasm of our foreign friends. The hills have been getting steeper and swifter each year, and now the speed with which one reaches the base must be experienced to be realized. At night they have been lighted by hundreds of torches, with usually a large bonfire at the top. As seen from a distance they have a strange, weird effect, somewhat as if an Indian encampment had suddenly settled among us. Curling, too, has had many enthusiastic followers, and rinks have been kept in good order for the bonspiel. The river itself has held a position of importance, frozen from shore to shore, and not a few have seized the opportunity of sleighing across and visiting the villages on the other aide of the great St. Lawrence.
Lest the idea of so much frost and cold should be too chilling, we hasten from this to the only other point needful to notice, namely, the Windsor Ball. Here the one thing most apparent to the senses was the heat. As a spectacle it was fine, but when we say that seventeen hundred people obtained admission, you will understand there was little chance of dancing. Besides Lord and Lady Lansdowne, the invited guests included President Arthur and .the Governors of all the States. Many of these were present, and in fact most of our visitors came from "across the line." It is now all over. Our aim has been to show that life in Canada may be not only endurable during the winter months, but enjoyable. Our two carnivals, we think, have proved this, for though "the clerk of the weather" might have been more gracious to us this year, it is only fair that our friends, wishing to know our climate as it is, should experience it in all its phases, including even a thaw.