MONTREAL — Organizers of Quebec City's winter carnival learned this week the depth of anger they risk facing if they mess with one of the city's most beloved winter traditions — or its snowman mascot, Bonhomme.
After changing the format of its famous parade, the Carnaval de Quebec received an avalanche of scathing reviews on its Facebook page, some reporting that organizational failures at the event left children in tears.
The criticism focused on lengthy delays, choice of location and a new format where spectators waited at designated "stations" for music, theatre and dance troupes to arrive and perform.
Other reviews noted the "sombre" costumes and makeup and the fact that the celebrated snowman was placed on the first float instead of his usual position at the parade's conclusion.
"No atmosphere! No music, no animation, people were shivering, children were bored and people were leaving," wrote Claude Toupin, who attended the parade.
She said the start was delayed and there were long gaps between each presentation, which left spectators waiting in the cold with no music or fanfare to entertain them for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
"When the first car arrived with Bonhomme Carnaval it was pathetic, having waiting all that time for that! It was neither joyous, nor festive."
A consultant with the carnival acknowledged the problems at a news conference Tuesday and said organizers are still figuring out the new format.
Daniel Gelinas said steps are being taken to reduce the event's running time to between 45 and 55 minutes, to ensure continuous entertainment and to improve the acoustics by the time the next parade is staged this weekend.
"We're confident this will have a big effect on the spirit of the performance, and the festive side we want to create with this product," he said.
But Gelinas' words did not mollify spectators such as David Montminy, who described the event as a "total flop."
Montminy said the parade was over an hour late, and he described seeing children crying from the cold as their parents rubbed their feet to warm them up in the lobby of a nearby bank.
"The carnival did what has never been done elsewhere in the world, Gelinas told us, and I see there's a good reason for that," Montminy said in a series of Facebook messages.
"This type of parade could take place in the summer, but not in the winter. It takes a parade that's quick and continuous given the cold and the type of audience."
The carnival is the largest winter event in Quebec City, which bills itself as the "snow capital of the world." It's become a regular stop for prime ministers and other dignitaries seeking a coveted Bonhomme photo op.
Anne Thibault, a mother of three, said she's been coming to the carnival for years and was looking forward to the parade.
But she said the costumes were more suited to "experimental theatre" than children's entertainment, and she eventually left early after her children kept asking her why they were left staring at an empty street between acts.
"My oldest started crying," she said. "They were cold, and there was nothing for them to see."
She said she won't go back to the parade unless organizers bring back the old carnival atmosphere, complete with mascots, music, children's entertainment and cheerful floats.
"The new one isn't aimed at families ... in fact even without children it doesn't interest me."
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press