Montreal Jazz Festival in Montreal, Quebec

Travel Guide: Top Cultural Festivals in Canada

Despite its small size, Canada is one of the fastest and diverse countries globally, with a wide variety of festivals and cultural attractions. Several festivals in Canada happen all through the year and attract thousands of tourists and visitors worldwide. The celebrations in Canada vary over a wide range. Name the occasion, and it’s in Canada!

Below is a list of Canada’s top cultural festivals and attractions you need to add to your bucket list. It’s almost impossible to decide which one is the best, so these are listed in no particular order. But, it should make it easier for you to find the perfect activity for your next vacation to Canada.

Vancouver Celebration of Light

The Vancouver Celebration of Light is an annual fireworks competition held in Vancouver, British Columbia. This festival lights up the skyline of Vancouver for three to four nights during the summer. It started in 1990 as the “Symphony of Fire”, and is the world’s longest-running offshore fireworks festival. The first one was from July 25 to August 5, 1990.

The Vancouver Celebration of Light festival lights up the skyline of the English Bay in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Source: Bing

It is one of the many prestigious festivals in Canada. Held in Vancouver, it’s probably one of the biggest firework competitions held in the world for several nights every summer.

You haven’t seen fireworks until you’ve experienced Vancouver’s Celebration of Light. This festival lights up the sky over the English Bay for three nights at the end of July. Each night starts with an accompanying music festival down at Sunset Beach.

If you see the fireworks competition, be sure to find a spot to watch the show comfortably. It’s a breathtaking 25 to 30 minutes of pyro-musical action. This event also includes food stalls, concerts, and the Seawall Challenge.

Official site: https://hondacelebrationoflight.com/

The Calgary Stampede

Amongst the other festivals in Canada, this event traces back to 1886 when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair. Held every year in July, it is one of Canada’s biggest events.

The Calgary Stampede is one of the biggest and oldest rodeo festivals in Canada, attracting millions of visitors every year
Source: Bing

The Calgary Stampede is an event where you can dress up in cowboy attire and witness the most incredible outdoor show on Earth. This 10-day rodeo event in Alberta attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. It’s the biggest city for rodeo events, parades, a midway, concerts, stage shows, and more.

For many people, Calgary is synonymous with “Stampede,” a 10-day extravaganza each July that attracts local families who have been attending for several years.

Most people come to Calgary for the exciting chuckwagon races. Others come for the agricultural showcases and concerts featuring some of the biggest country music legends and rock stars. Free pancake breakfasts are given out every morning before the show starts. Most locals declare the chuckwagon races their favourite event.

Official site: https://www.calgarystampede.com/stampede

Montreal Jazz Festival

Another insanely popular festival in Canada is the annual Montreal Jazz Festival. It’s the world’s largest jazz festival that is held every year for 10 days in June/July. This event offers over 500 concerts, with a majority of them being free of charge.

Montreal Jazz Festival in Montreal, Quebec
Source: Bing

More than 2 million music lovers attend the Montreal Jazz Festival to witness the heart-warming performances of different musicians from across the globe. Every year the festival showcases around 3,000 artists representing 30 different countries, performing in hundreds of concerts, including various outdoor performances.

Jazz Fest shuts down a large part of the city’s downtown area to make space for the festival’s diverse selection of shows as the festival attracts millions of people. Many of the shows are free of charge and take place throughout ten indoor concert halls and ten outdoor stages. If you are a music lover, especially a fan of jazz, then you need to go to the Montreal Jazz Festival at some point in your life.

Official site: https://www.montrealjazzfest.com/en-CA

Pride Toronto Festival

Thousands of Canadians march in the Toronto Pride Parade as they join in celebrations of the LGBT community in Canada
Source: Photo by Shawn Goldberg/Shutterstock

Pride Toronto is a 10-day festival that takes place mainly in June, and more than 1 million people attend this festival. About 100,000 people participate in Toronto’s Pride Parade, which happens either at the end of June or the first weekend of July.

This event is internationally recognized as of the largest organized gay pride events in the world. The cheerful and joyous gathering includes a Family Pride program, Trans Pride, The Dyke March, and the phenomenal Pride Parade.

Pride Toronto celebrates the diverse sexual and gender identities along with the culture and arts of Canada. Apart from the famous Pride Parade, the Toronto event features art displays, a street fair, and performances that offer fun experiences for the attendees. For the people, Pride Toronto means a month of celebrations and festivities and a vibrant, colourful, fun-filled weekend.

Some of the main events of Toronto’s Pride festival are the Trans March, the Dyke March, and the Pride Parade. If you’re in Toronto in June, you should attend this Pride Festival as you will have a fantastic time and meet lots of friendly faces.

Official site: https://www.pridetoronto.com/

Winterlude in Ottawa and Gatineau

Light displays at the Winterlude festival in Ottawa, Ontario
Source: Bing

The Winterlude festival is a three-week-long annual event that happens in early February each year. This event features ice sculptures, musical performances, art displays, and outdoor sports activities. It is spread throughout the city and in the neighboring town of Gatineau in Quebec. The event started in 1979 and has become one of the nation’s capital’s biggest tourist spots, attracting thousands of visitors each year. A record of 1.6 million people attended the Winterlude festival in 2007.

Attending the Winterlude festival is a great way to celebrate and enjoy the winter season. Apart from the exciting activities such as skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway, a snow playground, ice sculptures, concerts, the food is to die for, and the maple syrup treats are fantastic. There are plenty of food trucks available where you can get a hot beverage, BeaverTails, and much more.

Read More: https://www.canada.ca

Canada Day Celebrations, Ottawa and Country-Wide

Canada Day celebrations at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario
Source: Bing

Canada’s biggest celebrations happen on July 1, Canada Day, marking Canada’s birth as a country.

Canadians don their red and white attire and proudly wave their maple leaf flags, enjoy fireworks, local cuisine, and of course, great Canadian beer. The very best celebrations take place in the country’s capital, Ottawa. However, anywhere you go on this day, locals will always be sure to show you a great time.

Quebec Winter Carnival

The Winter Carnival in Quebec City is the most famous of all winter festivals that take place annually in Canada and is also one of the oldest festivals in the country. The Quebec Winter Carnival has been celebrated irregularly since 1894 and yearly since 1995.

The Quebec Winter Carnival in Quebec City is one of the biggest winter festivals in the world
Source: Bing

It started when a group of French Canadians would gather together every year before Lent season to eat, drink and be merry. It is now of the biggest winter carnival celebrations and is held annually in January and February.

The Carnival features various fun outdoor sporting activities, including ice skating, skiing, hockey, snowshoeing, and dogsledding. Other attractions include a giant masquerade ball and a massive snow sculpture contest, the most well-known being the nighttime and daytime parades.
One of the most famous attractions may be the “bain de Neige.” People plunge into ice-cold waters wearing bathing suits. Approximately 10 million people attend this event every year, making it the largest winter festival in the world.

Official site: https://carnaval.qc.ca

Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was founded in 1976. It is one of the leading film festivals in the world and one of the largest publicly attended festivals on Earth. About 500,000 people annually visit this festival, which takes place in September. TIFF offers patrons presentations of new film releases, live film events, and an interactive gallery.

The TIFF sign at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is one of the leading film festivals in the world
Source: Bing

The Toronto International Film Festival held annually in September showcases a wide range of films and premiers movies from around the globe. It is one of Toronto’s most popular festivals featuring leading films such as Ray, 127 hours, Black Swan, American Beauty, and many more. Some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars attend this event annually.

The most significant award for taking home at this festival is the People’s Choice Award, based on an audience vote. Popular movies like 12 Years A Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, Silver Linings Playbook, Lion, and La La Land have won this award.

Official site: https://www.tiff.net/

Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival

Montreal’s Just for Laughs Comedy Festival is all about spreading happiness and entertaining people since 1983. The aim of the festival is “just laugh.” Held every summer in July, this event has gained immense popularity among Canadians and Americans. It features a series of events, performances, and shows, most of which are free to enjoy.

The Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival is one of the biggest comedy festivals in the world
Source: Bing

Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival is one of the top festivals in the world, famous for comedy. In its early stages, it began as a two-day Francophone event. Soon, the comedy festival gained international recognition and evolved into an international comedy festival. It is now the world’s largest comedy festival.

This 10-day long festival features some of the world’s greatest comedians and is internationally broadcasted on television and the internet. The Just for Laughs brand has now extended into prank shows for television, yearly live shows, and talent management. Still, the inaugural Montreal festival remains its point of origin. It is a must-see event for comedy lovers.

Official site: https://www.hahaha.com/en

Edmonton Folk Festival

The Edmonton Folk Festival had a small start in 1980. At the time, there was only one staff member and 300 volunteers. Today, it is one of the leading folk festivals in the world, with as many as 2,700 volunteers every year.

Edmonton Folk Festival in Edmonton, Alberta
Source: Google

The festival lineup includes the best folk music artists from Edmonton, Canada, and around the world. The festival is a not-for-profit society. The lineup is always outstanding, and ticket prices for this festival are always affordable.

Edmonton is also the gateway to Jasper and the Canadian Rockies. If you have spare time to kill before the festival starts, why not go and explore the mountains?

Official site: https://edmontonfolkfest.org/

Celtic Colours International Festival, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Celtic Colours International Festival is a Celtic music festival held annually in October on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

For nine days in October, Cape Breton Island is home to unique celebrations of music and culture. The Celtic Colours Festival presents dozens of concerts all over the island and workshops, a series of visual art exhibitions, and a nightly Festival Club.

Trees changing colour on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Source: Google

Thousands of people worldwide come to Cape Breton Island for nine days in October to celebrate the music and culture of the Celtic peoples.

One of the main reasons for visiting the Celtic Colours International Festival in Cape Breton is the time of year and the amazing colours of autumn. It’s a spectacular view that attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. In fact, Cape Breton was Conde Nast Magazine for its scenic beauty and friendly people.

Official site: https://celtic-colours.com

Folklorama Festival, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Performers in the annual 46th Folklorama festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Source: Google

Folklorama is a multicultural event that runs for two weeks every year in August in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is the largest and longest-running multicultural event in Canada.

Visitors to the festival come to celebrate the cultural and ethnic heritage of people from dozens of cultures who have made Winnipeg their home.

Each culture has an assigned venue, known as a pavilion. There are usually over 40 pavilions presented throughout the city, half of them operating in week one and the other half in week two of the festival. Each pavilion presents a show featuring the song and dance of their culture, trademark ethnic cuisine, and cultural display. Some pavilions also include additional services such as henna tattoos, and some have late-night parties. Most pavilions provide imported cultural beverages.

Folklorama provides exposure to cultural groups and brings in thousands of tourists every year, adding to the city’s economy. It is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind in the world.

Official site: https://folklorama.ca/

Stratford Festival

The Stratford Festival is a theatre festival that runs from April to October in Stratford, Ontario. Local journalist Tom Patterson founded this festival in 1952. It was once formerly known as the Stratford Shakespearean Festival. The Stratford Festival was one of the first art festivals in Canada and continues to be one of its most prominent. This event is recognized worldwide for its production of Shakespearean plays.

The Stratford Festival is one of the first ever art festivals founded in Canada in 1952.
Source: Google

The festival’s primary focus is to present productions of William Shakespeare’s plays. It also runs a wide variety of theatre from Greek tragedy to Broadway musicals and contemporary works. Shakespeare’s works typically represented a third of the offering in the largest venue, the Festival Theatre, in the festival’s early years. However, by 2017, only three of the 14 productions were Shakespearean plays.

The enormous success of the festival changed Stratford into a city where arts and tourism play essential roles in the economy. The festival attracts many tourists from outside of Canada, most of them being British and American visitors.

Official site: https://www.stratfordfestival.ca

Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto

The Canadian National Exhibition at night in Toronto, Ontario
Source: Bing

Last but not least on the list is the Canadian National Exhibition, also known as the Ex. It is a three-week annual event leading up to the Labour Day weekend and takes place in Toronto. It is Canada’s most significant yearly fair and also the fifth biggest annual fair in North America. It’s been around since 1879 and has become a family tradition for many people in the GTA.

From thrilling rides to international cuisine, the Canadian National Exhibition is an end-of-summer ritual in Canada. The carnival music, swirling candy-coloured lights, and diversity of thrilling rides will send shivers down your spine. Kids will love the midway with rides and delicious carnival food.

Don’t let them miss the international cuisine and treat their taste buds with something different by checking out the various Indian, Asian, and African food vendors.

Official site: https://theex.com/

Final Thoughts

These festivals are only just some of top cultural celebrations in the beautiful country that is Canada. Next time you take a vacation to Canada, be sure to check out at least one of them. Canada is a party-central country. Guaranteed if you go to one of our festivals, you will have the best time of your life!

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