10 Offbeat Canadian Festivals

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Sure we already know all the big events in Canada – Osheaga, the Calgary Stampede, Canada Day on Parliament Hill – but what about the lesser known celebrations and festivals across the country?

Did you know Canada is home to the world’s largest fireworks competition, or that in Saskatchewan they’ve perfected the art of tailgating?

This guide will give you some ideas about unique things to do and see in Canada, starting this summer. While you’re here, hire a local guide in Canada to take you out for a REAL travel experience!

The Vancouver Symphony of Fire

Vancouver is home to the world’s largest fireworks competition. It happens over several weeks every summer, and it’s called The Vancouver Symphony of Fire. It’s been happening every year since 1990, and it attracts the world’s best fireworks pyro-technicians and designers.

Since over 400,000 people show up each year for the festival, keep in mind the best viewing points will be very crowded. English Bay Beach is the best place for viewing, but you have to arrive very early. It’s best to arrive on foot, as many of the roads are closed and parking can become a nightmare. There are also many concession stands and food vendors here, as well as plenty of restrooms!

Don’t forget, there are even more weird things about Vancouver you have to discover while here.

Celtic Colours International Festival

Every October, Cape Breton (Nova Scotia) puts off an island-wide, nine-day celebration of Celtic Culture. It’s the largest in North America, in fact. Each year, 47+ concerts are held at venues all across the island, in everything from 18th century reconstructed chapels to brand spanking new facilities and community halls. People come from all over the world, including Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, and even Cuba. It’s all about live music, Celtic culture, and appreciating Cape Breton’s natural beauty.

Why is the festival held in the autumn? Cape Breton is world renowned for its unbelievable autumn foliage.  Everything is dressed in vibrant reds, oranges, yellows, and golds. As a festival-goer, you can travel from event to event. Visit the gorgeous Bras d’Or Lakes, or drive through the Cabot Trail. If you want to do one of the best hikes in Canada, walk the Skyline Loop. You’ll get stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, AND some epic foliage action.

Ness Creek Music Festival

One part hippie mayhem, one part awesome country music, the Ness Creek Music Festival found in Saskatchewan may be hard to reach for some… but it’s completely worth it. This festival is based on the former “Ecological Fair,” featuring ecological workshops and displays with local musicians playing on a small stage. Nowadays it’s a 4-day celebration with over 30 main stage performances.

There’s also a Workshop stage, an Eco-Village, a community kitchen, an area for children, drum and dance circles, sharing circles, and after hours venues… meaning you really get to party hard in rural Saskatchewan. This entire area is stunning, also: Ness Creek and Ness Lake make for some wonderful scenic backdrops. If you want a real fun experience, opt to camp out.

Poutine Festivals!

It might come as no surprise, but there are actually MANY poutine festivals in Canada! One of the biggest is in Drummondville, Quebec. This event is literally a celebration of Quebec’s famous dish: French fries smothered in cheese curds and a special poutine sauce. It may sound strange, but it’s actually delicious. If you feel like clogging your arteries and listening to some big bands in the process, this is the festival for you!

But poutine popularity has spawned a handful of other festivals across Canada as well, including in Ottawa and in Montreal (for the first time ever this year). How can you dedicate a whole festival to poutine, you ask? Well, let’s just say people get creative. Poutine with meat? Poutine with veggies? Poutine with everything you can think of? Yes. It happens.

Craven County Jamboree

Who knew that Saskatchewan pulled off such epic festivals? Craven Country Jamboree is about as country as it gets. Some of the biggest country music acts have performed here, including the likes of Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, and even Johnny Cash. It’s held every summer at the end of July, and hosts 23,500 people. Despite its huge numbers, the Craven Country Jamboree is not exactly well known across Canada.

There are campsites around the festival for people travelling to the festival, as well as bus services from Regina and Moose Jaw. If you want a REAL tailgating experience, this is the place to do it! Join all the other prairie cowboys for parties out of the boxes of their trucks, sipping cold Budweiser beer and soaking up the country livin’.

George Street Festival

This might be the biggest little festival in Canada. Situated in St. John’s, Newfoundland, you’ll find one of the summer’s craziest parties. George Street is renowned for having more pubs and clubs per square foot than any other street in North America, and even though St. John’s is a small town, it sure knows how to party.

For one week at the end of every July, George Street closes up its entrances and turns the entire street into one big concert/festival/party. You pay a fee to get onto the street, and then you’re able to buy alcohol from vendors and wander between bars at will (without having to pay cover charges). Throughout the week, big name bands from across Canada and the USA play on the centre stage. Don’t miss Saturday Night, with its traditional Newfoundland “Kitchen Party” (with local music), or the “World’s Biggest Screech-In” where you’ll be initiated as a Newfoundlander.

Rock Scissors Paper World Championships 

Yup, this exists. It’s considered the most nonviolent conflict resolution game in the world – Rock, Paper, Scissors, and if you’ve had any childhood at all, you’ve played it at least once in your life.

It’s not just a child’s game though, clearly. People take this seriously. The stakes are high at this awesome competition found in Toronto, Ontario. Even better: it’s held at the delicious Steam Whistle Brewing company. You can follow up some intense Rock Scissors Paper sessions with a pint of good local brew.

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest

Did you know that Canada has its own Oktoberfest? Held every year in Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, it’s considered the second largest Oktoberfest in the world. With its beer-based celebrations, there’s also a major parade held on Thanksgiving Day.

Why is there an Oktoberfest in Ontario? Both Kitchener and Waterloo have strong German influences, and Kitchener was even once called Berlin. The festival’s mascot is Onkel Hans, a large man in Bavarian dress with a thick moustache. Throughout the festival, events take place all over the cities. As you can imagine, things can get a little boozy. Book your accommodations in advance for this one!

The Great International World Championship Bathtub Races

Found in Nanaimo, British Columbia, this four-day marine festival ends with a 36-mile bathtub race across the straits of Georgia. The finish line is typically at Departure Bay, but this year they’ve moved it to the Maffeo Sutton Park in downtown Nanaimo.

The competitors ain’t messing around either: each bathtub costs about $3000, and has an 8 horsepower motor. Folks take this game so seriously, there’s even a Royal Nanaimo Bathtub Society, and the race has been going on for 48 years.

Elvis Festival

Yes, there is an Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario. Every summer, this tiny town plays host to hordes of visitors who pay tribute to the music and legend of Elvis Presley. You’ll find Elvis impersonators, tribute artists, and diehard fans roaming the streets and impersonating Elvis.

Events include: a most decked-out Cadillac competition, a full carnival, meeting champion tribute artists, and even an Elvis themed wedding. We’re serious.

 Do you have a favourite Canadian festival? Let us know!

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