Those who have tasted the rich and varied cultural delights of Canada’s many festivals will recall them with the fondest memories. And if it’s your first time, be assured you have some wonderful times to look forward to.
Musicmusic dominates the country’s festival calendar in a huge way–showcasing so many different genresit will blow your mind away. From the blues to jazz. from bluegrass to classical chamber instrumentalIt’s all there for you to enjoyout in the open air or in some prestigious venue. Balletfolk dances... theatre, rodeos and so much else is on the cards during the day-long festivities. There are picnics and beer-drinking competitions, shellfish culinary adventures and flowering tulips, that fill up those warm happy days to be enjoyed with friends and family. Canada’s aboriginal heritage adds colour to the festival calendar too. But even in the winter there’s something to look forward to for all age groups...with ice skating and snowboarding festivals to storm welcoming and whale-watching.
Toronto, Canada’s biggest city, alone has over 50 ballet and dance companies in addition to its opera companies and symphony orchestras. Powered by the great explosion of migrations over time, especially from the 50s, it offers a banquet of festivals–multi-ethnic cultural forays revolving around art and theatre, religion and dance, food and drink. The Toronto International Film Festival, held in September, is one of the world’s most prestigious. The city’s other top festivals are Canadian Music Week (May); Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival (June); Harbourfront Centre Summer Festivals (June— September); Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival (July ); and the Winter Wonderland Parade (December).
Montreal is justly famed for its Maison du Festival de Jazz, the world’s largest jazz fest. Held at the Quartier des Spectacles in the last week of June and the first week of July (mind you check the dates during your travels), it features over 1,000 concerts and activities, with musicians and entertainers (3,000 of them) from over 30 countries participating. From morning till late at night it’s a heady affair. Some of the concerts are held in the intimacy of a closed venue, but the open-air ones are the most fun of all, with plenty of eats and drinks available to fuel your enthusiasm. At least two-thirds of these activities are free.
Six days of non-stop music and endless fun in the second week of September await you at New Brunswick’s Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, powered by over 400 musicians across 27 different stages scattered around Fredericton. The Afterburner party is a whirl of dancing and beer aplenty. If you’re lucky and your personal festival guide enterprising, you might even be able to go backstage. With the ocean so close there’s the added allure of seafood.
Marvel at the versatility of an Inuit throat singer improvising with a rapper then go dance the night away to country and world-beat music under the midnight suneven rub shoulders with some of the musicians in the general melee at the Dawson City Music Festival. For over 35 years now people have been thronging Yukon town (a National Heritage Site) of Dawson City, mesmerised by the three-day folk, rock and reggae performances of a slew of top Canadian artistsjamming in vintage log houses or back-in-the day gold-rush heritage buildings. The festival is held over a weekend every summer in mid-July starting on the Friday.
Join scores of wine aficionados at the Niagara Icewine Festival to savour the offerings of over 30 wineries which take part in this jolly showcasing of the harvest from Niagara’s frozen vineyards, held every year in mid-late January; its venues are Niagara-on-the-Lake and Jordan in the Niagara region. It’s quite a unique affair as you’ll discover an entire bar carved out of ice and even glasses made from ice. The chefs pull out all stops to serve up a wondrous array of local Niagara culinary delights to pair with the rare and precious ice-wine made from -8°C picked icewine grapes. There are street parties (free) too which you can join and mingle in great bonhomie even with strangers who share your love for icewine– made in only a few areas of the world, with Canada’s Niagara region being one of those special places.
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.
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.