I arrive on the wind of the carnival. A fairly surprising wind, inflicting chaos all through town, and bringing with it the worst snowstorm of the winter. Over 30 inches of snow has fallen on Québec in a single day, and it appears to be like like an etching courting from some extra primitive time, when wolves would cross the frozen rivers and prowl between the buildings.
It’s a spot that has been calling me for years. Rising up in Yorkshire, the kid of a neighborhood man and a French girl, I learnt to grasp my twin tradition by the use of songs and folklore. French and English folks songs have greater than a little bit in frequent and, over centuries, have crossed the ocean to the New World, leaving fragments of themselves wherever they’ve come to land.
Canada map
One was a ballad referred to as V’là l’bon vent (roughly translated, it means “there goes the wind”) which my mom used to sing to me. I quoted it in a few of my books, together with Chocolat and my newest, The Strawberry Thief, and as soon as I sang my model of it down the cellphone to Johnny Depp, as he labored out the chords on his guitar, for later use within the film. It’s a really outdated tune, courting again a minimum of so far as the 16th century, and though the refrain and music have modified relying on the area, the story, unhappy and mysterious, has survived for effectively over 500 years.
The folklorist Ernest Gagnon, in his Chansons Populaires du Canada (Québec, 1865), means that the model with which I grew up is of French Canadian origin. Maybe that’s the place Vianne Rocher, the itinerant heroine of Chocolat, picked it up and introduced it house. And now I’m right here in Québec, at a winter carnival, simply as Vianne’s journey started in France.

Rue du Petit Champlain and the funicular station. {Photograph}: Dan Leeth/Alamy
The Carnaval de Québec is a pre-Lenten custom, courting again to 1894 – a celebration of winter by folklore, music and feasting. One of many world’s largest winter carnivals, it’s held yearly in mid-February on town’s Plains of Abraham, with an ice palace, lantern parades, snow sculpting, video games, out of doors sports activities, (ice-canoe races, snowboarding, ice hockey, dog-sledding, snow-shoeing) and a masquerade ball on the Château Frontenac, certainly one of Canada’s grand railway motels, which dominates the Higher City in all its mock-Gothic glory. The celebrations are fuelled with warming pictures of caribou (a standard drink of port, whisky and maple syrup), and presided over by Bonhomme, the Carnival mascot since 1955, a large snowman sporting a purple tuque hat and conventional chevron sash.
Hundreds of individuals attend yearly, and the environment is vibrant and welcoming. Dad and mom and kids skate on the rink on the Place d’Youville, or practise archery or axe-throwing. The actually courageous can attempt Au 1884, a historic toboggan slide from the lodge’s Dufferin terrace. There’s one thing for everybody right here, and guests whose French isn’t fairly as much as scratch, will discover that most individuals communicate English, particularly in the course of the carnival.

Holy Trinity Cathedral. {Photograph}: Alamy
This place feels very acquainted, regardless that it’s my first time right here: folks music performs by audio system lining the streets and, with a way of deja vu, I recognise V’là l’bon vent. Regardless of its measurement, Québec retains a villagey really feel underneath the snow, and a heat and convivial environment.
The identify Québec comes from an Algonquin phrase, kébec, which means “the place the river narrows”. It refers back to the a part of the Previous City the place the St Lawrence river flows right into a cliff-lined hole. Vieux-Québec, in and across the partitions, is a maze of stone buildings and winding streets lined with cafes and eating places. Porte Saint-Louis and Porte Saint-Jean are the primary gates, and the Higher and Decrease Cities are linked by flights of steep stone steps that remind me of Paris’s Montmartre. A funicular from rue du Petit Champlain, with its many little boutiques, runs to the higher city, the place at Les Trois Corbeaux on Côte de la Fabrique, guests can watch glassblowers at work, creating the items on sale. The buildings are nonetheless embellished for Christmas: it offers the Previous City a timeless really feel, a world caught in a snow-globe.

A room at Le Monastère des Augustines. {Photograph}: Andre Olivier Lyra
Church buildings, convents and seminaries abound, reflecting the robust Catholic heritage of town. My lodge, Le Monastère des Augustines, (doubles from £104 B&B) is a former convent, retaining a lot of its authentic options, together with the chapel, refectory, a museum and lots of the outdated nuns’ cells have been transformed to visitor rooms, clear and austere, however comfy. A small group of Augustine nuns nonetheless dwell right here: at breakfast (which is carried out in silence) I hear them singing within the church; this, together with the therapeutic and yoga classes, all contribute to the air of seclusion and peace.
Elsewhere, Québec’s robust historical past of Catholicism continues to be obvious. My information, David Mendel, writer of many books on town’s structure and historical past, takes me on a tour of its church buildings, together with Nôtre-Dame de Québec, with its spectacular gilding; the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, with its English chamber organ; and the Seminary of Québec, which ready younger males for the priesthood.

College boys taking part in broom hockey at recess at Seminary of Québec. {Photograph}: Philip Scalia/Alamy
I additionally meet Robert Bouthillier, a folks music skilled from Brittany. He tells me that V’là l’ bon vent is much, far older than I’d thought. At the least 300 variants exist, overlaying the entire French-speaking world and, over a breakfast of pancakes at Chez Muffy, we focus on how totally different narratives adapt to go well with their surroundings, and the way a tune from medieval France might have turn out to be so well-known in Canada.
However it is a land of tales. Tales are what individuals deliver with them after they go away their native nation; tales are what constructed Québec, tales of conquest and braveness and hope. Everybody has a narrative right here – or a tune or a recipe. The tales of town are these of the individuals who got here right here, and all over the place these tales are linked to its well-known hospitality. Maybe it’s the language – the language of my childhood – that makes me really feel so welcome. Or perhaps it’s the truth that on each road, individuals are sharing meals, music and laughter.
Feasting has at all times been part of the custom of Québec. Wonderful eateries abound – together with at my lodge, the place the chef, Sylvestre Hervieux-Pinette, serves marvellous six-course tasting menus (together with bison steak, roasted beets and chocolate tart).

Pouring maple syrup onto snow at a sugar shack to make maple sugar taffy. {Photograph}: Warchi/Getty Pictures
One other expertise to not be missed is lunch at one of many regional sugar shacks – cabanes à sucre. Dwell folks music and conventional meals (meat pies, boiled ham, chickpea soup, tarte au sucre and naturally, glasses of the well-known caribou) are topped off with maple candies, made in entrance of you within the snow.
In case you can tear your self away from the delights of the carnival, it’s price heading out to l’île d’Orléans, a river island within the Saint Lawrence, 5 kilometres or so east of downtown Québec. House of the nice Montmorency Falls, it provides a style of rural life near town. The village of Saint-Jean has a stunning chocolate store, Chocolaterie d’l’île d’Orléans, a household enterprise owned by Geneviève Noël, who makes all her goodies on web site in a tiny artisan workshop.

A rural scene on l’île d’Orléans. {Photograph}: Bruno Morandi/Getty Pictures
The island continues to be largely agricultural – though none of that issues underneath the snow – however I take the chance to attempt dog-sledding with l’Equipe Mi-Loup (grownup £42). It’s purported to be an hour-long trip however, with extra snow than anticipated, it turns into an actual journey. There’s one other storm on the best way, and the canine want our assist to information the sledge by the deep snow.
As we drive by the pine woods (singing V’là l’bon vent), I spot coyotes watching from between the timber and, though our information later reassures me it was solely a pack of canine, I stand firmly by my coyotes, and won’t be persuaded in any other case. We get again two-and-a half hours later, lengthy after darkish. Comfortable and exhausted, we’re glad of cups of sizzling chocolate and an open fireplace.

Au 1884, the 270-foot toboggan slide on Dufferin Terrace behind Chateau Frontenac. {Photograph}: All Canada Pictures/Alamy
Subsequent day, I head west of town into rural Québec and the village of Saint-Côme, identified for music, folklore, meals and traditions. I meet with the mayor, Martin Bordeleau, who occurs to be in a band himself, and the baker, Marie-Pierre LaJeunesse, whose great-grandfather based the village bakery in 1943, and whose cinnamon rolls alone are well worth the three-hour drive from town.
Additionally they introduce me to the ice-sculpting competition of Saint-Côme, to which each family within the village contributes. Large blocks of ice are harvested from the river, and minimize by chainsaw into magical shapes that line the primary road. Every has a unique character, and there’s a fierce however good-natured rivalry between the artists. The sense of being in a snow-globe is ever extra pronounced right here, the place everybody is aware of everybody else, and everybody has a narrative.

An ice sculpture in Saint-Côme. {Photograph}: Richard Prudhomme/Alamy
We lunch on the Trécarré microbrewery, throughout which a trio of people musicians arrange on the bar and begin to play. The patrons be a part of within the singing – the singer and violinist, Michel, tells me that this occurs all year long, however particularly throughout winter, when spirits are flagging. On this dazzling daylight, I discover that tough to imagine, however the winter is lengthy, he tells me. Tales and music present a way of preventing towards the darkish. And right here, with the snow piled six metres excessive in some locations, a powerful sense of group is a matter of survival.
That night, there’s a live performance by native musicians. The primary band I see has the mayor on lead vocals, his household alongside him. If solely the mayor in Chocolat had had the identical priorities.
However issues are totally different in rural Québec. Maybe it’s the snow-globe impact. Or perhaps it’s the truth that right here, most of all, music and tales are like seeds, settling over the countryside, borne on the wind that has blown them right here from villages throughout Europe. That is the wind of my folks tune. And the identical wind has introduced me right here, so I’m a part of the story now – albeit a really tiny half – writing my very own variations and carrying them again house with me.

Joanne Harris on her Canada journey.
“It’s simple to turn out to be a part of this place,” stated Bouthillier, the folklorist. “I got here right here intending to remain for six months, and ended up staying 20 years.”
I can effectively imagine it. Cocooned within the snows of yesteryear, Québec is like an enchanted realm, dreaming fiercely underneath a sky as blue as in a fairytale. The snow has stopped falling as I go away to go again to the airport. However the tales and songs are nonetheless taking part in right here – and that wind is at all times blowing.• Extra info at quebecregion.com, quebecauthentique.com and quebecoriginal.com. Flights have been supplied by destinationcanada.com
Joanne Harris’s novel The Strawberry Thief (£19.99, Orion Books), the fourth within the Chocolat sequence, shall be printed on four April. To order a duplicate for £17.60 together with UK p&p go to The Guardian Bookshop