Canadians know how to throw a party, and we don’t let a little thing like -21C (that’s -6F for our American friends) stop us. After all, if we restricted our celebrations to the days we felt all ten toes and our ears weren’t red, some parts of Canada would only get out for nine weeks of the year. We’ve adapted to the conditions by coming up with some creative Canadian winter festivals, and we’re happy to share them with visitors. What’s a party without guests?
Let’s get the big guns out of the way first, ‘k? Everyone knows about the first two on our list, unless they’ve been sequestered on a mountaintop in Nepal, and even then I’m sure I’ve seen Nepalese Buddhist monks skating on the Rideau Canal.
11 CANADIAN WINTER FESTIVALS
About that Rideau Canal…one of the best times to skate there — the Rideau Canal Skateway is a 7.8 km skating rink that runs through Ottawa — is during Winterlude festivities. Winterlude in Ottawa, Ontario runs January 30 through February 16, 2015 and includes activities for all ages. From dancing to skating to checking out the talented artists who create ice sculptures, it’s our nation’s capital winter celebration. You haven’t been to Ottawa if you haven’t eaten beaver tails while skating on the Canal. (It’s an obscure Canadian law best not trifled with.) Beaver tails are mounds of sugary, carby goodness necessary to fend off the temperatures.
And that brings us to the Carnaval de Québec, which has been held in Québec City for the past 60 years. The Winter Carnival is one of the most famous in Canada and attracts visitors from around the world, and in 2015 it runs January 30 through February 15. Snow sculptures, an ice palace, costumed entertainers, ice canoe races —Canadians are crazy, but in a good way. — and delicious food and drinks to warm you, all within the confines of a beautiful 400 year-old city.
If an emphasis on good food and an exploration of the arts is more your thing, Montréal hosts Montréal en Lumière every winter. Discover local and visiting artists, taste some of the finest food you’ll find anywhere in the world, enjoy free family outdoor fun, and take in a spectacle of lights selected by UNESCO as part of its International Year of Lights and Light-Based Technology. The festival runs February 19 to March 1, 2015.
Fredericton, New Brunswick hosts FROSTival (January 23 – February 16), which mainly runs during four weekends and shows off the region’s best outdoor fun, family events, and indoor activities when visitors need to thaw out frozen limbs. Check out East Coast musicians, take part in a night time snowshoe scavenger hunt, or join in a no-holds-barred Frisbee tournament.
The Festival du Voyageur is held in Winnipeg, Manitoba’s French quarter and runs February 13-22, 2015. Voyageurs were some of Canada’s most intrepid and earliest European explorers who traded and transported furs and other goods with the First Nations. Back for its 33rd year is the Festival’s beard growing contest (open to all ages and sexes), but even if you’re follicly challenged the Festival provides all kinds of fun events: music, food, comedy, a jigging contest, snow sculptures, and more make it a great party for everyone.
2015 marks the 12th Ice on Whyte Festival in Edmonton, Alberta, running January 23 – February 1. It’s ten days of outdoor food, art, and music, but the real show is the annual ice sculpture competition. Competitors from around the world man/woman their chainsaws and chisels and create art out of frozen water. Sip on hot chocolate or grog to warm your insides while you’re having fun.
And for something to please the speed nuts out there, Lac La Biche, Alberta hosts the Winter Festival of Speed. Watch cars, motorcycles, and snowmobiles race across the frozen lake — weather permitting, of course — and even some brave souls during a horse and sleigh rally. The Festival is scheduled for the weekend of February 28 – March 1, 2015.
If these festivals aren’t cold enough for you, head north. Way north to the Snowking Winter Festival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. From March 1-31, 2015 enjoy northern life with outdoor — Where else? — activities, check out local artists performing in a snow castle, and get in on the community fun.
Who can resist a festival that claims to host not only a beard growing competition, but a hair freezing one, too? I’m sure I have a fighting chance in the hair freezing one, so a visit to the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is on the list of Only In Canada winter festivals. It runs February 18-22, 2015 and looks like one of the most fun, if craziest festivals in the country.
ARE YOU READY TO PARTY??? Because if you’re heading to the World Ski & Snowboard Festival in Whistler, British Columbia between April 10-19, 2015 that’s what you’ll be doing. Although technically no longer winter, the April festival showcases some of the best winter athletes in the world and deserves a place on this list. To balance all the fun on the slopes there’s a huge line-up of talented musicians, great food, and art. The Festival’s motto is “Party in April. Sleep in May,” so don’t say you weren’t warned.
For a completely different kind of winter festival, but still as Canadian as possible, make a date with the Pacific Rim Whale Festival held in Tofino, British Columbia. You won’t find any ice sculpture or beard growing contests here, but you will be lucky enough to see spectacular marine wildlife, peruse the work of local artists, and check out a photo showdown that highlights the massive surf storms of the most westerly part of Canada. Tofino and neighbouring Ucluelet will wow you with their landscapes, food, and great cups of coffee. The Festival runs March 14-22, 2015.
While the less hardy out there grumble about sticky nostrils and frost-tinged eyelashes, the rest of us can get out and enjoy a good Canadian winter party. The cold never bothered us anyway.