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Canada 150: 15 Canadian festivals and events you have to attend before you die

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, we are shining a light on our amazing country. In the weeks leading up to July 1st, we will be releasing articles on the best Canada has to offer. Get ready for some useful information, beautiful photos and, of course, some laughs.

Canada is known for many things like hockey, beer, maple syrup, plaid and just straight up being nice.

One thing that Canada might not get enough recognition for is the large number of incredible annual events that take place within our borders every year.

Whether it’s a west coast music festival underneath the mountains in Pemberton or a winter carnival in beautiful Quebec, there are a lot of amazing Canadian festivals and events.

Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world, which is reflected in the wide variety of different cultural celebrations.

As the next part of our Canada 150 series, here are 15 Canadian festivals and events that you need to attend before you die, going from the west coast to the east coast.

Pemberton Music Festival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

There are plenty of great music festivals in Canada, but due to how close it is and it’s world class setting, we had to include Pemberton on this list. After a massive, but disorganized, festival in 2008, Pemberton went on hold for a number of years before returning with different organizers in 2014.

Typically held during July, the acts at Pemberton are mostly electronic, hip hop and rock, and while it may not be the best-organized festival in the world, it’s hard to beat the location. Camping with friends and watching your favourite musicians under a setting like Pemberton’s Mount Currie is an experience that not many people get to experience and if you have the ability to attend one year, you definitely should.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Celebration of Light

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

The first of two fireworks festivals on this list, the Honda Celebration of Light lights up the Vancouver skyline with incredible colours for three or four nights a summer. It began as the Symphony of Fire back in 1990 and is the longest running offshore fireworks festival in the world.

It’s hectic around Vancouver on fireworks nights, with 1.4 million people attending the multi-day event over it’s three or four nights, but if you can find a decent spot to watch the show it’s an incredible 25 to 30 minutes of pyromusical action. The 2017 edition of the Celebration of Light runs over three nights, July 29th, August 2nd and August 5th.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Shambhala Music Festival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Again, there are lots of great music festivals in Canada to choose from, but Shambhala’s unique format and location puts it on the list of events you should at least try once. The family-run music and arts festivals is held in the first week of August at a 500-acre cattle ranch in Salmo, B.C.

Known to many as the Burning Man of Canada, Shambhala doesn’t allow people to bring alcohol into the grounds. Despite that, Shambhala is still known for its party atmosphere, but it’s also known as being a leader when it comes to festival and drug safety, which was showcased nicely by The National back in 2015.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Calgary Stampede

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Held every July, the Calgary Stampede is one of Canada’s best-known events. The ten-day rodeo attracts over a million visitors to Alberta’s biggest city for rodeo events, a parade, a midway, stage shows, concerts and more.

The event traces all the way back to 1886, when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first ever fair. Then, in 1912, Guy Weadick organized the event into his first rodeo and festival, known as the Stampede. It became an annual event in 1923 and is now a staple of the Canadian summer. The Calgary Stampede is considered one of the world’s biggest rodeos and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Taste of Edmonton

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

While most of these festivals and events feature food trucks and other culinary fun, Taste of Edmonton is the only one focused around getting your eat on. Extended from its original one week format to a 10 day event in 2011, Taste of Edmonton now attracts half a million patrons each summer.

Taste of Edmonton allows you to sample food from some of Edmonton’s best restaurants and food trucks, while also testing your cooking skills in various culinary workshops. You also have a chance to find out more about local breweries and farms, or visit the Sip ‘n Savour tent for new and exclusive dishes from the city’s finest chefs.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Toronto International Film Festival

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The Toronto International Film Festival, better known as just TIFF, is one of the largest publicly attended film festivals on earth. Nearly 500,000 people annually attend the festival, which was founded in 1976 and happens every September. TIFF operates out of the TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto, and offers patrons things presentations of new releases, live film events and an interactive gallery.

The biggest honour to take home at the festival is the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, voted on by filmgoers at the festival. Over it’s history, popular movies like Room, The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Lion, La La Land and Dallas Buyers Club have all taken home the prestigious award.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Canadian National Exhibition

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The Canadian National Exhibition, also know as The Ex, is a nearly three week annual event leading up to the Labour Day weekend that takes place at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Much like it’s west coast counterpart, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), it features fair rides, great shows and an incredible variety of food to try.

While we would also highly recommend attending the much closer PNE in Vancouver, The Ex is Canada’s largest annual fair and also the fifth largest annual fair in North America. It’s been around since 1879 and is a family tradition for many, offering entertainment for people from all walks of life.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Pride Toronto

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Similar to the PNE vs the CNE, you could attend Vancouver’s Pride Festival and have a fantastic time. Pride Toronto, however, is internationally recognized as one of the largest organized gay pride festivals in the world. The 10-day festival can’t determine an exact number of attendees, but recent estimates have around one million attendees for the full week, with 100,000 attending the parade itself.

The festival celebrates our diverse sexual and gender identities along with Canadian culture and arts. Beyond the famous pride parade, the Toronto event features a street fair, performances and art displays that offer up fun for any type of person that attends.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook


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The Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly and more commonly known as Caribana, may be unknown to many, but it’s actually the largest street festival in North America with over 1.3 million visitors per year. The festival celebrates Caribbean culture and traditions and is held every summer in Toronto.

Originally introduced to Canada by immigrants from various Caribbean Islands, the festival features music from that part of the world like steel pan, soca and calypso. The festival also features a number of Caribbean themed parties and food, but the main attraction is the colourful, costume-full Parade of Bands.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Canadian Tulip Festival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Nature lovers have to find a way to attend the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. The festival claims to be the world’s largest tulip festival, displaying over one million tulips and attracting more than 500,000 annual visitors. The festival has been around for more than 60 years, beginning in 1953 following a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch royal family.

The tulips are planted throughout the city, but the largest displays are found in Commissioners Park, on the shores of Dow’s Lake and also along the Rideau Canal. It’s not just beautiful tulips on display as the festival, which spans three weekends in May, also features music performances, speakers and exhibits of international cuisine.

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Most of these festivals take place in the warmer months, but Winterlude is the first of two that happens in the dead of winter. It started in 1979 and has become one of the nation’s capital’s biggest tourist draw, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The 2007 edition of the festival attracted a record 1.6 million visitors.

Winterlude, which happens in early February each year, features ice sculptures, musical performances, art displays and outdoor activities like the massive snow park known as Snowflake Kingdom in Gatineau. The biggest draw, however, is the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the largest skating rink in the world at 7.8 kilometres.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Montreal Fireworks Festival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

While the Celebration of Light in Vancouver is the longest running offshore fireworks festival in the world, the Montreal version is the most prestigious and largest fireworks festival in the world. Each year, three million visitors catch one of the 30 minute pyromusical shows. Each show uses approximately 6,000 fireworks.

The competition happens bi-weekly, like the Vancouver edition, but it runs for longer than it’s west coast counterpart, usually from late June until late July. While some will buy tickets to specific viewing areas for the best sightlines, hundreds of thousands of spectators watch the shows for free from various spots around the city.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Just For Laughs

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Staying in Montreal, Just For Laughs is another top festival in the world, this time for comedy. It was founded 1983 as a two-day, solely French language event, but has evolved into an internationally recognized comedy festival. Just For Laughs is now a 10-day long festival that features some of the best known comedians in the world.

While the Just For Laughs brand has extended into a prank television show, live shows throughout the year and talent management, the inaugural Montreal festival remains the focal point. It remains a must attend for comedy lovers, although Just For Laughs now has festivals in Toronto, Chicago and Sydney as well.

<who>Photo Credit: Just For Laughs

Montreal International Jazz Festival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Another Montreal festival that’s the largest in the world. While you might think the biggest jazz festivals would be in New Orleans, it’s actually the annual late June, early July event in Montreal. The Montreal International Jazz Festival attracts close to 2.5 million visitors every year to watch 3,000 artists from 30-odd countries put on more than 650 concerts.

The shows take place throughout 10 outdoor stages and 10 indoor concert halls and a large majority of them are free to the public. A large part of the city’s downtown core is closed down to accommodate the festival’s diverse selection of shows. For any music lover, but especially fans of jazz, the Montreal International Jazz Festival is a must attend at some point in your life.

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Quebec Winter Carnival

<who>Photo Credit: Facebook

Last, but certainly not least, is one of the best-known festivals in all of Canada. The Quebec Winter Carnival has been celebrated intermittently since 1894 and annually since 1955, which is also the year that the festival’s famous mascot, Bonhomme, made his debut. Approximately one million people attend the carnival annually, making it the largest winter festival in the world.

The Quebec Winter Carnival has a number of recognizable activities and attractions, including opening and closing ceremonies, outdoor sporting events, free outdoor public banquets, a large masquerade ball and a massive snow sculpture contest. One of the most popular events may be the “bain de neige”, where people plunge into icy, snowy water wearing bathing suits or other funny outfits.

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Honourable Mentions: Canada’s other amazing music festivals

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With so many amazing newer music festivals in Canada, it was tough to choose which ones to include. Due to the reasons we stated above, we went with the two British Columbia festivals that both offer unique experiences and are recognized on the world stage. There are a number of great Canadian Music Festivals to try and experience, however, which include the following:

  • Ottawa Blues Fest
  • Osheaga Music & Arts Festival
  • Wayhome Music & Arts Festival
  • Field Trip
  • North by Northeast
  • Bestival
  • Digital Dreams Music Festival
  • Canadian Music Week
  • CBC Music Festival
  • Rifflandia Music Festival
  • Rock The Shores
  • Edmonton, Calgary or Winnipeg Folk Fest (or any folk fest really, they're all good!)

Enter to Win!

In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery has a Canadiana Gift Basket up for grabs for one lucky winner (19+). Enter the form below before June 30th, 2017 at noon for your chance to win the following:

  • BRBN Whisky Chocolates
  • Glencairn Glass Set
  • Blittered Sling Travel Pack Bitters Collection
  • Jalapeno Gold Jelly (made with OKS Gin by Taste of the Okanagan)
  • OKS Drunken Fruit Trio
  • Chill 'N Rocks (whisky rocks)
  • OKS Shot Glasses
  • OKS Sunglasses
  • OKS $65 gift card
Fill out my online form.

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