By Jim Ferri
Summertime is not only festival time in the U.S. but also in Canada, where you’ll find a variety of great Canadian summer festivals.
In fact, there are many more festivals held annually in Canada than most Americans realize, ranging from popular cultural and musical performances to food and sporting events attended by thousands, varied enough to suit almost any interest.
Here is a list of some of the top annual Canadian summer festivals that are perennially popular. (Since there are so many festivals that take place, far to many to include in this space, if you know of others not included in this list please add them in the comments section).
To make the list most useful we’ve broken them down by region. All underlined words are direct links to each festival’s website.
Canadian Summer Festivals in the Atlantic Provinces
Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador
Canada’s birthday celebration, Canada Day, takes place on July 1 so why not celebrate it in the country’s birthplace, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island? The Atlantic Superstore Festival of Light takes place in Charlottetown during the three days leading up to July 1. A carnival midway with buskers from around the world and concerts by rock bands at night, lead up to the laser show and fireworks display over the harbor on July 1. It’s followed by the wide-ranging Charlottetown Festival (July 3–September 25).
The Halifax Pride Parade (July 27) is part of Halifax Pride Week (July 21–28). You’ll also find a mixed bag of music, storytelling, rowing regattas and street buskers in Newfoundland at St. John’s Time (July 25–August 7). Also of note are Le Festival Acadien de Caraquet (August 1–15) and Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival (July 25-27), both in New Brunswick, and The Tuckamore Festival in St. John’s, Newfoundland (August 5–18).
If you’re hungering for shellfish check out the Digby Scallop Days (August 7–11) festival in Digby, Nova Scotia and the Summerside Lobster Carnival (July 5–14) or PEI International Shellfish Festival (September 12–15), both on Prince Edward Island.
Central Canada Summer Festivals
Québec and Ontario
The Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, ON (August 16–September 2) is summer’s must-go-to while the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (May 1–Oct 20, 2013) stretches the season with a dozen plays, ranging from Romeo and Juliet to The Thrill, penned by the Bard and other playwrights. In Montréal you can enjoy Les FrancoFolies de Montréal (June 13–22), a huge outdoor music festival featuring 1,000 artists from a dozen countries, and the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (June 28–July 7).
Toronto also hosts a jazz festival, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival (June 20–29 – free for all on Friday June 21) and the gay festival Pride Toronto (June 21–30), capping it off with its celebrated Toronto International Film Festival (September 5–15). Ottawa also gets into the musical act with the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest (July 4–14).
If you want to stretch the summer season you may want to visit the pretty historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, only 20 minutes North of Niagara Falls, which is home to the Shaw Festival (April 6–October 27) that annually presents an eclectic array of comedies, dramas and classics.
Festivals on the Prairies
Saskatchewan and Manitoba
There’s plenty happening in Saskatchewan and Manitoba during the summer months ranging from Fringe to Shakespeare. The SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (June 21–July 1) kicks off the season, followed by Dauphin’s Countryfest (June 27–30) in Manitoba. July 10 sees the curtain raised on both the Winnipeg Folk Festival (July 10–14) and Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (July 10–August 25), this year presenting Macbeth and The Comedy Of Errors. Both are followed by Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan (July 11–14) and the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival (July 17–28). In Regina enjoy dance, food and a cultural festival at Mosaic, (May 11–31).
Mountains and Western Canadian Festivals
Alberta and British Columbia
Further west in Alberta you can mingle with cowboys at Alberta’s Calgary Stampede, an annual western-Canadian classic (July 5–14). Hang around a few weeks longer for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (August 8–11) and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (August 15–25), or travel westward to get your dose of Shakespeare at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver, BC (June 12 – September 14), which presents four plays.
Vancouver also hosts the Vancouver Pride Parade & Festival (August 4) and two music festivals, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July 19–21) and MusicFest Vancouver (dates not yet listed) while nearby Victoria hosts the TD Victoria International JazzFest (June 21–30) and the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival (August 22 – September 1).
Alberta’s Banff Summer Arts Festival offers dance, opera, orchestral music, jazz and string quartet competitions, literary and visual arts, Aboriginal arts, and film (from early May through late August). If you’re visiting Victoria you can also watch the 90 teams that compete in the annual Victoria Dragon Boat Festival (August 16-18), which takes place in the city’s inner harbor.
Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories
If you’re hardy, up in Canada’s north you can celebrate the longest day of the year and National Aboriginal Day at the Summer Solstice Festival (June 21) in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, or race a mountain bike through the night – no headlight required – at 24 Hours of Light, a mountain-bike festival in Whitehorse, in the Yukon.
If you’re in a less energetic mood you might enjoy the Alianait Arts Festival in Nunavut (June 28–July 1), or the Great Northern Arts Festival (July 12–21) and Folk on The Rocks (July 18–21), both in the Northwest Territories.
If you’d rather stay closer to the border and relish a good fireworks competition, you’ll likely enjoy the Honda Celebration of Light (July 27–August 3, 2013) in Vancouver, BC or the Loto-Québec International Fireworks Competition (one show per week, June 22–August 3) in Montréal.
There are also exciting aerial exhibits at British Columbia’s Abbotsford International Airshow (August 9–11), The Canadian International Air Show (September 1–3) in Toronto, and Atlantic Balloon Fiesta (September 6–8)in Sussex, NB.
Editor’s Note: you may also enjoy A Tour of Quebec City, Canada’s Old World Treasure, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada’s Little Gem, and 48 Hours in Montreal