Whether your ideal Canadian holiday involves soaking in the local culture, trying the country’s best produce or simply being entertained, attending one of Canada’s summer festivals is the best way to experience community spirit and good sunny vibes while discovering all the country has to offer.
From music to fireworks and not forgetting the rodeo, see our pick of Canada’s top outdoor festivals for the summer months.
Montreal International Jazz Festival, June 29 –July 9
Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, or Montreal International Jazz Festival, is the largest of its kind according to the Guinness World Record Book. Every year the French-speaking city welcomes 2 million festival-goers who come to celebrate the most sophisticated of musical genres at 800 concerts and activities. Delivering all manner of smooth jazz melodies, around 3,000 musicians from around the world will arrive in Montreal ready to entertain the crowds.
Now in its 37th year, Montreal International Jazz Festival boasts 10 indoor concert venues ranging from intimate to stadium size, as well as nine free outdoor stages to enjoy. Based around the city’s Place Des Festivals site, a huge open space for public gatherings in Downtown Montreal, the outdoor stages cater to all kinds of audiences.
Montreal International Jazz Festival explains: “The atmosphere is joyful and programming suits children (with the musical park and la Petite Ecole du Jazz stage for families), young people (with hip hop concerts and indie folk jazz in the line-up), the nostalgic (with names like Brian Wilson, The Mavericks and Huey Lewis playing) and jazz connoisseurs will enjoy performers such as Chick Corea and Christian Scott.”
Within walking distance to Montreal’s old port district, there’s no better way to round off a day spent exploring the city’s magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica or ticking off the multiple museums and attractions at Parc Jean-Drapeau than watching the sun set as you listen to the world’s foremost jazz musicians at one of Canada’s summer festival highlights.
Ottawa RBC Bluesfest, July 7-17
Canada’s answer to Glastonbury, RBC Bluesfest says its soulful music festival in Ottawa is “much like that in terms of atmosphere, community involvement and family attractiveness. Canada and the music is terrific! The people are very friendly and the make-up of the audience is very diverse.”
Don’t be deceived by the name, however. Ottawa RBC Bluesfest isn’t just reserved for fans of the blues; in fact the festival’s eclectic line-up might offer a more accurate picture of why audiences come in their masses to enjoy this multi-stage ten-day affair as one of Canada’s summer festivals not to be missed. This year’s event will bring together the likes of crowd favourites the Red Hot Chili Peppers and eighties chart toppers Duran Duran with lesser known but much-loved Canadian groups such as Wolf Parade. There truly is something to suit everyone’s music tastes at Ottawa RBC Bluesfest.
For those visiting Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, RBC Bluesfest is perfectly situated downtown and in walking distance of Parliament Hill. Savvy holidaymakers may want to book their parking festival pass with their tickets for a convenient, safe place to leave their Canadian rental car while enjoying the event. RBC Bluesfest also advises festival-goers to “bring your sunscreen and your dancing shoes! The weather is much nicer and warmer than people expect to see in Canada at this time of year.”
Calgary Stampede, July 8-17
Calgary Stampede is a proud showcase of the industry that this cowboy city is founded on. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the rodeo, it doesn’t get much bigger or more flamboyant than in Canada during this summer festivals highlight.
Take advantage of convenient flights to Calgary and be sure to grab your front row seat for what is affectionately known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth.” Arrive early if you want to see the two-hour Stampede Parade wind its way through the city’s downtown area before the grand opening ceremony on the first Friday of the festival.
A packed schedule of six major events in the rodeo ring every day will push reigning world champions to their limits and include the likes of bull riding, bareback horse riding and barrel racing throughout the ten-day festival. Each day of the competition is brought to an epic close with the TransAlta Grandstand Show and fantastic fireworks finales lighting up the 23,000 acres of the Calgary Stampede Ranch. If you get the chance while in the city, a trip to the Calgary Tower, with its unrivalled 360 degree views of the city, should help to put this expansive festival space into perspective.
Cowboys aren’t the only ones who get a look in as the Calgary Stampede also promotes the Canadian First Nations culture at its purpose-made Indian Village in the festival’s stunning ENMAX Park. Country music fans are welcome too, with a line-up of 300 performers across five stages also making the Calgary Stampede one of the largest summer music festivals in the country.
For first-time visitors, Calgary Stampede’s organisers have the following advice:
- Buy your tickets in advance
We always recommend you purchase your tickets in advance to avoid missing out on The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth. Tickets for the 2017 Stampede Rodeo and the Evening Show, which includes the GMC Rangeland Derby and the TransAlta Grandstand Show, go on sale in the autumn.
- Don’t forget your western wear
During the Stampede, Calgary gets an extreme denim makeover. Business suits take a back seat to blue jeans, belt buckles get huge and everyone puts on their favourite pair of cowboy boots. Even visiting royalty embrace cowboy hats, boots and jeans. Don’t forget your white cowboy hat! Pro tip: Stampede Park is big and you’ll be walking a lot. Break in those boots before you arrive.
- Spend two days at The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth
There is so much to see and do that fitting it into one day is nearly impossible. You will not want to miss the iconic events and enjoy all the free entertainment included with your reserved ticket. This Wild West event needs two days to fit it all in!
Toronto’s Festival of Beer, July 22-24
Toronto’s Festival of Beer is a celebration of Canada’s rich brewing history and features 300 types of beer from Ontario craft brewers and breweries around the world. The festival has quickly become one of Canada’s top summer festivals to mark on the calendar and is the largest beer festival in the country. If you like good brews, BBQs, sunshine and music, then this festival is a must.
Visitors will have ample opportunity to try the best hops produce in Canada and across the globe, as long as they’re 19 years or over of course. Toronto’s Festival of Beer takes place in the historic exhibition grounds of Bandshell Park just minutes away from the city’s infamous Distillery District.
“Come hungry and come thirsty because there is nothing like this in Canada!” say the organisers.
“Every year there are three characteristics that we focus on when planning for our festival; the first is to showcase a great selection of local and international beer, the second is to showcase great food offerings, and the other is quality entertainment that will add to the overall atmosphere of the event. Toronto Festival of Beer takes place outdoors, right across the street from Toronto’s beautiful waterfront. This really adds to the dimension of our event because in the summer people just want to be outside and soak up all the ‘fun-in-the-sun’ that they can get.”
Honda Celebration of Light, July 23/27/30
Vancouver’s favourite summer event, the Honda Celebration of Light is the largest offshore fireworks competition around the world. Over three evenings, crowds gather to watch a spectacular display of firework innovation at the city’s English Bay Beach.
Vancouver has hosted some of the country’s most memorable events, such as the world fair Expo 86. The festival organisers say: “The Honda Celebration of Light is no different; a world class event in a world class city. People come from all over to see the fireworks, the event brings the community together and is an event for all ages to enjoy!”
There are plenty of stalls to browse and activities on the beach to do while you wait for the sun to go down and the sky to light up. Several food trucks are on site to serve up delicious alfresco options to the families who come to see the fireworks displays.
Honda Celebration of Light suggests making a day of the event, adding: “It does get very busy around 5:00pm. If you can get there early and set up a nice spot on the beach you can swim all day, get a bite to eat at the many places offered, relax and enjoy the sun and music before the fireworks start. This way you will secure a spot for the evening as well – it does get busy and you want to make sure you have a spot to sit.”
Halifax International Busker Festival, July 27-August 1
Presenting over 300 shows in this time, the event sees touring groups and individual performers transform the city’s waterfront with amazing displays of acrobatics, fire breathing and magic. The festival also attracts several comedians from Canada and beyond, and was listed in National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel as one of the world’s must-do events in August.
The Halifax International Busker Festival has developed into a nostalgic affair amongst the list of Canada’s summer festivals, as the organisers explain: “The event is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2016. This means two generations have grown up attending the festival with family. It is a family friendly event that we like to say is fun for those 8 to 88 years old.
“We receive emails each year from people who happened upon the festival years ago while visiting the province and now come back every so many years to enjoy it again.”
The festival itself is an eclectic mix of performance styles stretching a mile along the waterfront and with five stages running at any one time. In between stages, visitors can grab something to eat from the local food vendors or eye up the craft and jewellery stalls before heading to try out the carnival’s games and rides.
As Halifax International Busker Festival says: “Visitors can expect beautiful scenery, friendly people and they will want to come back. The festival will give people a sense of excitement, wonder and awe as they see artists from around the world performing incredible stunts, dance and acrobatics.”