Canada: Gateways to the Carnival

Canada: Gateways to the Carnival

Canadians celebrate the end of Arctic winters in myriad different ways

Ranee Sahaney
September 08 , 2016
08 Min Read

It’s called ‘the greatest outdoor show on earth’ and when you attend the Calgary Stampede you’ll find yourself in a kind of freefall as you soak up the atmospherics of this massive high-stepping spectacle. From bucking broncos (thousands of horses and cowboys) to lavish floats (150 of them)from endless hours of drinking and eating–it’s a completely mind-grabbing entertainer for 10 days–from mid-July each year, with the burgeoning crowds (1,000,000 visitors and counting) adding to the fun and frolic. Rub shoulders with hundreds of happy visitors on the sidelines as floats, bands, riders, celebrities and hundreds of horses pass by during the Calgary Stampede Parade. This is rodeo magic with a vengeance. Unspooling in front of you is the wondrous show of the world’s top rodeo athletes taming and riding wild horses and bulls, roping cattle and lots more. There’s more to follow–as the crowds roar and the adrenaline pumps overtime, teams of four horses charge around the track during the much-looked-forward-to chuckwagon races. At the Grandstand Show, savour the staged spectacle of horses, singers, dancers and music which will knock your socks off.

horsecart racing at the Stampede

With 60 years under its belt, Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival has to be on your bucket list. Not only will you get to watch traditional dramatisations of the Bard’s best-loved works by North America’s top actorsget ready to enjoy more innovative interpretations as well. The level of acting, the interpretations, the sets and the costumes all provide plenty of fodder for discussion and diatribes among purists as well as novice attendees. You can even attend a lecture or too, to bone up on your knowledge of the Bard’s works, as well as some of the interactive sessions with the actors. You might even be able to pull off a backstage tour and enter the riveting world of props and costumes. The festivities are on from April to November, but from June to July the summer crowds are probably the biggest. Join scores of other theatre-lovers over a picnic by the nearby Victoria Lake or the Avon River.


Ottawa’s hugely attended Canada Tulip Festival emanated from a wondrous gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs in 1945, from Princess Juliana of the Netherlands to the country’s First City, for providing refuge to Holland’s exiled royals during World War II. It was also an appreciation of the role the Canadian troops played in liberating the Netherlands. Springtime is a riot of millions of tulip blooms scattered across the National Capital Region. The first Canadian Tulip Festival was held in 1953. Ever since, visitors have been gathering in huge numbers at the Commissioners Park by the banks of Dows Lake. Enjoy this vast expanse of 300,000 tulips in all their springtime glory. This festival is one of the world’s largest shows of its kind with an annual haul of over 600,000 visitors. Ottawa’s tulips have become an enduring symbol of peace, freedom and international friendship. Every year, the Dutch Royal Family and the Dutch Growers Association each send 10,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. The censure of all eyes is the spanking new red and white Canada 150 tulip gifted by the Dutch people to Canada to mark its important 150th anniversary.


Even the winter chill can’t dent the carnival air of the World Ski & Snowboard Festival at the annual jamboree in the town of Whistler held over 10 days–and nights. The very motto of the fest clearly urges visitors to “Party in April. Sleep in May”–so chuck off your lassitude and get into the frayjostling with the crowd as the festival offers a mix of sports, music and, of course, lots of the arts. On the sports side, there are at least eight ski and snowboarding competitions. The Shred Show is a chance for snowboarders to win some greenbacks. Edgy fashion shows (Fashion Exposed), film screenings (from the Olympus 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown), art (Olympus Pro Photographer Showdown; State of the Art), music ( from the free Outdoor Concert Series) and nightclubbing around town are the other highs.

Canada’s most thrilling whale watching experience unspools at Tofino (from where Japan lies across the Pacific) in March with the Pacific Rim Whale Festival–running from November to March. For the annual migration of the Gray whales be there between March to May; Tofino’s also becoming a huge draw for storm watchers, wading into the roiling surf in the aftermath of one of the massive winter storms rising out of the Pacific punishing Vancouver Island’s pristine coastline between November and February.

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