Portland celebrated its first Quebec-inspired Winter Carnaval a century ago – after some dark years during the Spanish flu epidemic. When Brian Corcoran of Shamrock Sports and Entertainment revived the Carnaval tradition in February 2020, he had no way of knowing that when it returned, two years later, we would be coming out of our own hard times.

“We’re back, we’re bigger and we’re here to stay,” he said at the Fire & Ice Gala kickoff Feb. 17 in a giant inflatable igloo on Portland’s Eastern Promenade. “This is going to become an annual event. We’re here to carry on a tradition that somehow fell off. For me, this is validation of how much this community loves Maine for all seasons. And tourists, too: 255 of our ticket sales for the next two weekends are from outside the state of Maine.”

Many of Maine’s movers and shakers were quite literally moving and shaking to the Time Pilots that night, among them Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Quincy Hentzel.

“We were thrilled to see Carnaval back this year,” she said. “It’s an event to celebrate our city and attract visitors to our region during our typically slower, quieter winter months. Carnaval allowed us to highlight Portland and prove we are a wonderful place to live, work and play regardless of time of year.”

With seven days of events between Feb. 17 and 26, Carnaval featured more than 10 performing groups, fireworks, food and beer tastings, snowboarding competitions, ice sculptures and kids’ activities.

“What I love about this is that we’re a state for all seasons and we’re celebrating what Maine is about,” said Julie Mulkern, executive director of WinterKids, a Maine nonprofit dedicated to getting kids outdoors and the beneficiary of the fundraising gala.

This year’s Carnaval was during school vacation week and about a week after the conclusion of Carnaval in Quebec City.

“What Brian puts on is wonderful,” said Michael Pizziferri, a government relations attache representing Quebec in New England. “We can keep working together on year-round tourism. That’s what Quebec does and what Maine should do as well.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com.

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