The Anatomy of a Canadian Festival

At Canada's best festivals, you'll find thematic outfits, intimate music performances, multiculturalism and beautiful outdoor scenery.
 

Edmonton Folk Music Festival, photo by Eric Kozakiewicz

From St. John’s to Whistler, Canada’s festivals are as diverse as its landscapes, but here are four traits you’ll find at many of the country’s most beloved events.

Thematic Outfits

From the hippie-inspired flower crowns and tie-dye of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival to elaborate, feathered costumes of Caribana in Toronto, Canadians know how to embrace a theme. But nowhere is the theme taken quite as seriously as at the Calgary Stampede (July 7 to 16), where hundreds of thousands of people—from kids to oil execs—dress head to toe in jeans, plaid shirts, cowboy boots and hats for 10 days of rodeo, beef on a bun and line dancing on straw-covered floors inside the festival tents.

Intimate Performances

There’s something uniquely intimate about many Canadian festivals. This is the case with St. John’s, Nfld.’s George Street Festival (July 27 to Aug. 2), when the small street shuts down for a roaring East Coast party. Visitors spend the week hopping in and out of some 25 bars, dancing to big-name musical performers (such as hometown favourite Alan Doyle) playing everything from Celtic tunes to rock, just inches away from the audience. An on-street stage gets the crowd dancing to big acts like 2017 headliners Blue Rodeo.

Multiculturalism

Canada’s cultural diversity is displayed at its festivals, especially Winnipeg’s Folklorama (Aug. 6 to 19), the largest and longest-running multicultural festival in the world. For two weeks, visitors can experience a different culture at each of the 41 pavilions (such as schools and community centres). Each venue is like a mini-cultural event featuring authentic food and drink, live entertainment and workshops. At the Pavilion of Scotland, watch Highland dancers, learn how to wear a kilt and maybe do a Scotch tasting.

The Great Outdoors

Canada’s varied landscapes—think prairie fields at Alberta’s Big Valley Jamboree and the Rocky Mountains at the Banff Summer Arts Festival—provide an idyllic backdrop for outdoor performances. And, at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival (July 7 to 9) in P.E.I., the beach is part of the experience. Concertgoers stroll in Prince Edward Island National Park along the beautiful beaches of the province’s North Shore, and then head to the festival grounds to watch performances by acts such as this year’s headliner, the Zac Brown Band.

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