The Top 10 Must-See Festivals in Canada

Canada hosts some of the biggest carnivals in the world, which revolve around celebrating both life and tradition, thus making it a must for every wanderlust to be a part of. The Canadian festivals will make you travel from the far east coast to the edges of the west coast.

By Tiasha Chatterjee

A multicultural diverse land that is filled with people from different ethnic groups, Canada is home to people from distant parts of the world. The people cohesively live as one and come together to celebrate different festivals of light, music, color, culture, and not to forget, the oneness of life. 

In Canada, festivals initially began as a religious observation of the changing seasons, since the seasons play a huge part in shaping The Canadian Life. Even today, festivals are seen to celebrate and commemorate seasons. From the grand annual celebration of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival in Nova Scotia to the stunning Niagara Falls Blossom Festival in Ontario’s fruit belt, which features the fun Blossom Festival Parade and horticultural exhibits, or the magnificent Creston Blossom Festival in BC or the exciting maple syrup festivals celebrated in the heart of Quebec’s maple sugar region.

There are more than 200 festivals held in Canada each year, some of them indigenous, while the others are borrowed from foreign cultures. If you want to see yourself as a part of the biggest winter carnival in the world, look at the top 10 grand annual celebrations of Canada that lure enthusiastic visitors from all over the globe, all throughout the year!

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Montreal Jazz Festival (Montreal)

Montreal Jazz Festival Montreal Jazz Festival

The Montreal Jazz Festival falls amongst the most vivacious Canadian festivals, being a paradise for both musicians as well as jazz lovers. This festival to celebrate the magic of jazz music holds the 2004 Guinness World Record for being the world’s largest jazz festival. 

Each year more than 3,000 jazz artists turn up from all over the world, along with an excited mass of over 2 million visitors (the tourists taking up 12.5% of them) and more than 300 accredited journalists. The 10-day long festival hosts more than 20 grand stages for exciting performances, which include a rough count of 650 concerts. 

It also hosts 450 free outdoor concerts for the audience to relish. The shows take place in a different number of venues, ranging from comparatively small jazz clubs to the huge concert halls in Place des Arts, from noon until midnight. The outdoor shows are usually held on cordoned-off streets or terraced parks, thus changing the entire outlook of the city.

  • Dates - From June - July 
  • Average footfall - 2.5 million

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L'International des Feux Loto-Québec (Montreal)

L'International des Feux Loto-Québec L'International des Feux Loto-Québec

More popularly known as the Montreal Fireworks Festival, it has earned the badge for being the largest and most prestigious competition of fireworks in the entire world. Hosted since 1985, this festival takes place over the Dolphins Lake in La Ronde every year and is named after its main sponsor - Loto-Quebec. 

More than 3 million eager spectators show up to this festival every year to marvel at the splendor of 6,000 fireworks that are set off during the show. About eight or nine pyrotechnical companies from different parts of the globe present a half an hour-long show of pyro-musicals, aiming to win the prestigious Gold, Silver, or Bronze Jupiters (trophies). 

The competition is held in a series of biweekly shows, where the fireworks are synchronized to music, giving it a picture of immense grandeur. Although interested spectators can buy tickets to witness the show from reserved seats in La Ronde, the fireworks can be seen from far-away corners in the city.

  • Dates - From late June - late July 
  • Average footfall - 3 million

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Winterlude (Ottawa)

Winterlude Winterlude

An annual winter festival that is celebrated in the National Capital Region of Ottawa, Quebec, and Ontario, the Winterlude was started in 1979 and has become one of the most important tourist attractions in Canada since then. This three-week-long carnival of ice is a celebration of the same - the audience can take part in different ice sports, enjoy the fantastic ice art, and dance to joyous music. 

The main attraction point of Winterlude is the Rideau Canal Skateway, which is the largest ice-skating rink in the world, standing at a majestic 7.8 km area. The visitors of the festival are drawn by the magnificent ice sculptures, melodious music events, and exciting events for people of all ages. 

Another site that you simply cannot miss out on is the Snowflake kingdom located in Jacques-Cartier Park, Gatineau, which is turned into a massive snow kingdom. Winterlude is a major tourist attraction in Canada.

  • Dates - From early February - late February. 
  • Average footfall - 1.6 million.

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Celebration of Light (Vancouver)

Celebration of Light Celebration of Light

A musical fireworks competition that is hosted every year in Vancouver, the Celebration of light is the largest and most well-known festival in the area. It has also earned the recognition of the longest-running off-shore competition of fireworks in the world. 

Usually, it is celebrated throughout an entire week, as fireworks teams from three different countries come together and compete against one another to earn the grand winner’s fame. You are bound to be awestruck by the phenomenal and breathtaking display of fireworks at this festival. 

The Celebration of Light usually revolves around a particular theme that is selected every year, and the fireworks with their grand display of colors and lightly stir the hearts of millions of viewers. Top rock bands from around the world come to this festival to play every year!

  • Dates - From July - August. 
  • Average footfall - 1.6 million.

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Just For Laughs (Montreal)

Just For Laughs Just For Laughs

Just For Laughs is a grand comedy festival that is celebrated every year in Montreal, Quebec. First hosted in 1983, it has now achieved the fame of being the largest and the most widely known international comedy festival in the world. Welcoming more than 2 million eager festival visitors every year, it is also visited by more than 1700 artists who come from 19 different countries. 

This grand comedy event presents many streets entertainment forms, ranging from standup performances to musicals, and galas, where many great comedians and theatre groups come together to perform and compete against one another, to receive the maximum accolades from the massive audience base. When you visit this exciting extravaganza of fun and entertainment, we guarantee that you will fall short of breath from laughing your guts out! 

Some of the performances hosted in this event are also aired on a variety of TV channels, both national and international. Throughout the program, you will also be able to witness different non-verbal acts in the form of acrobats, pantomimes, and so on. Previously hosted in the Sain-Denis Theatre till 2010, the festival currently films at the Place des Arts to cater to its huge audience base. 

  • Dates - From mid-July - late July. 
  • Average footfall - 1.5 million.

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Quebec City Summer Festival (Québec)

Quebec City Summer Festival Quebec City Summer Festival

The Quebec City Summer Festival is an annual music festival that brings music lovers from different corners of the globe together in one place. Celebrated every summer, as the name suggests, it falls amongst one of the greatest musical frenzies. 

The Quebec City Summer Festival initially started in 1968 as a few local artists, musicians and businessmen came together to showcase the huge potential of music and tourism in the city of Quebec. Since then, it has substantially grown and today it is recognized as a world-famous music festival. It crossed its 1 million spectator mark back in 2007 - since then it did not need to look back and has only grown larger with every passing year. 

The festival celebrates music with various bands and genres, including rock, hip-hop, electronic music, classical music, punk, world music, and so much more. You will also come across many exciting street performances in the festival, equating to a total of more than 300 shows, that take place over a span of 11 days in various locations of the city.

  • Dates - From mid-July - late July. 
  • Average footfall - 1.5 million.

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Canadian National Exhibition (Toronto)

Canadian National Exhibition Canadian National Exhibition

More popularly known as The Ex or The Exhibition, the Canadian National Exhibition is a grand annual event that places every year in the city of Toronto, in its immensely popular Exhibition Place. It is celebrated through a span of the final 18 days that lead up to the Canadian Labor Day, the first Monday that comes up every September. Witnessing more than a million visitors every year, the Canadian National Exhibition falls in the category of the largest annual fair in Canada, as well as the sixth-largest fair in North America. 

First founded back in 1879, this huge community event was formerly known as the Toronto Industrial Exhibition. The Canadian National Exhibition is a non-profit organization that has a rich history as a prestigious showcase of the country of Canada. People from all over the world come to this top agricultural fair to get a taste of the latest innovations in technology as well as commercial products, to enjoy the grand performances of the top entertainers of the industry, and to take part in a collective community festival. 

It is true that the Canadian National Exhibition has seen a lot of changes in the past few decades, but it has never failed to maintain its prestige as one of the greatest annual traditions in Canada, and an event that brings in substantial entertainment value in exchange for money. As a celebration of the rich diversity of Toronto, many people from the surrounding community come to this festival as an annual family tradition. 

  • Dates - From 21st August - 7th September. 
  • Average footfall - 1.3 million.

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Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Toronto)

Toronto Caribbean Carnival Toronto Caribbean Carnival

Formerly called the Caribana, the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival or the Peeks Toronto Caribbean Carnival, it is a festival that celebrates the Caribbean culture and its traditions. First introduced to Canada by the immigrants from the Caribbean, the festival is hosted every summer in the city of Toronto and has achieved the acclamation of being the largest street festival in North America. Visited by over 2 million excited tourists every year from all across the globe, the festival’s final grand parade usually sees an attendance of over 1.3 million enthusiastic spectators. 

The festival was one of the first Caribbean carnivals to take place along with the ones hosted in New York City and Boston, arranged outside the Caribbean area. Thus, it brings in over a million global audience to Toronto and over an annual $400 million in Toronto’s economy. Following the typical carnival format, you will witness lively street dancing, masquerades in colorful costumes, and events that give you a taste of Caribbean life in this festival. 

The most well-known event is the Grand Parade, which is a climax of the Caribana event and is accentuated by the Parade of Bands. In this event, you will witness Mas players or costumed dancers dance and enjoy the beats of Caribbean music. These bands, the most important part of the carnival, compete against each other as they are judged based upon their costumes, the creativity of their presentation, the liveliness of the masqueraders, and so on. If you want yourself to be a part of a grand celebration, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival is the place to be!

  • Dates - During the summer. 
  • Average footfall - 1.2 million.

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Pride Toronto (Toronto)

Pride Toronto Pride Toronto

A celebration of the rich history, diversity, and freedom of the LGBT community in Canada and the world, Pride Toronto is one of the largest gay pride festivals in the world. This stunning festival features several stages that are filled with incredible live performers by the top DJs and stars. 

Centering around the Wellesly village and city church in the Greater Toronto Area, the marches, and the parade primarily route through the nearby Bloor Street, Gerrard Street, and Yonge Street. The entire city takes on a vibrant and colorful hue as the community celebrates solidarity and diversity through three incredible parades, namely the Pride Parade, Trans march, and Dyke March. The event has won the fourth international WorldPride fame in 2014.

Initially started in 1981 as a protest against the infamous bathhouse raids in Canada, the Pride has become an international flamboyant celebration that is so full of color, joy, and amazing spectacles. The massive pride parade is filled with fancy dresses, floats, and feathers, as it is an opportunity for the city folks to dress up and join millions of spectators in what is one of the biggest cultural events in all of North America.

  • Dates - During the Pride month in June. 
  • Average footfall - 1.3 million.

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Calgary Stampede (Calgary)

Calgary Stampede Calgary Stampede

An annual rodeo exhibition and festival that has now achieved the fame of being the greatest outdoor show on Earth, the Calgary Stampede is a ten-day event that attracts millions of visitors every year. A celebration of the cultural diversity of Canada and simultaneously of the cowboy country vibes, this event exhibits the golden, yet old-fashioned era in the greatest manner possible. 

Featuring the largest rodeo in the world, a grand parade, extravagant stage shows and midways, vibrant concerts, exciting chuckwagon racing, first nations exhibitions, and much more! The Calgary Stampede also won the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2008. First introduced in 1886 as the District Agricultural Society and Calgary came together to host a fair, it has now grown to be one of Canada’s largest festivals and the most expensive rodeos on the planet. 

A huge tourist attraction in the city, the chuckwagon racing is televised all across Canada. If you want to be a part of something different and grand, this is where you need to be!

  • Dates - Starting the first Friday of every July, it goes on for 10 days. 
  • Average footfall - 1.2 million.

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It is rightly said that the best way to learn about the culture of a country is to attend its festivals. 

A huge land known for its love for hockey, maple syrup, and the chilling cold winters, Canada is also a land full of astonishing festivals and extravaganzas. The myriad of celebrations in the beautiful land is a highlight of a variety of things, starting from the love of music to the snowy white winters, and the diversity of the LGBT community.

When you become a part of the celebrations, you will experience a vast variety of things - from enjoying the summer sunshine in the beautiful Toronto city to traveling through the depths of the chilling Vancouver winters. The Canadian festivals will make you travel from the far east coast to the edges of the west coast, as you collect bits of information and experience the diverse culture, weather, and terrain of the country. So why wait anymore, pack your bags, and be ready to celebrate the vastness of life!

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