10 unique festivals in Canada you won't want to miss

Celebrating food, music and culture in every season

By Corinne Whiting,

Canadian festivals brighten any calendar year, giving locals and visitors a chance to celebrate the best of what the country has to offer. From wintertime ice-centric extravaganzas to summer month gatherings of seafood and music, each province gets in on the action. Here are 10 festivals you definitely won't want to miss. 

Dine Out Vancouver

Dine Out Vancouver 2016 participants rode a classic 1930s trolley before being whisked off to three secret locations for canape creations, beverages and dinner — Photo courtesy of Tourism Vancouver/ Vision Event Photography

The Dine OutVancouver Festival, Canada's largest annual dining celebration, takes place at the end of each January, running through the beginning of February. Thousands of foodies gather to experience the city's thriving and diverse culinary scene.

Diners choose from 250-plus restaurants offering three-course prix-fixe meals at $20, $30 or $40 per person, with many complemented by the addition of British Columbia wines, craft beer and cocktails. Among the fest's activities: culinary and cocktail tours, cooking classes and demos, debates, BC wine and craft beer tastings and street food markets.

Ice on Whyte | Edmonton, Alta.

Ice on Whyte celebrates the season in welcoming Alberta — Photo courtesy of Curtis Comeau/Travel Alberta

Every winter in late January and early February, Edmonton's Ice on Whyte Festival "grabs Canadian winter by the snowballs and carves it into a wicked combo of ice and art."

To prep for the week-long party, 155,000 pounds of ice get dumped to set up activities like the International Ice Carving Competition, how-to tutorials and a gigantic ice slide ready to give you the slickest ride of your life. On closing night, watch fire melt an ice sculpture back into water – giving the fest a full-circle finale.

Devour! | Osoyoos, B.C.

Enjoy festival events like a sensational, five-course gala dinner at the Watermark Beach Resort — Photo courtesy of Destination Osoyoos

As "the South Okanagan’s only food, wine and film festival," Devour! Osoyoos returns each spring to showcase the best of what the picturesque region has to offer in all three aforementioned departments. Driven by local agriculture, education and business, the event features the work of B.C.’s best talents (filmmakers, chefs, tradesmen and winemakers, for starters).

Participants enjoy four signature events in addition to supplementary perks from unique tour experiences to decadent dine-arounds in one of Canada's most delicious zones.

Pride Toronto 

Pride Toronto means a month of festivities and a vibrant festival weekend — Photo courtesy of Rai Allen/Tourism Toronto

One of the largest Pride celebrations in the world, Pride Toronto takes place most of the month of June and boasts an estimated attendance of more than 1 million people. The vibrant and joy-filled gathering includes a special Family Pride program, Trans Pride, the Dyke March and the fabulous Pride Parade – featuring "costumes, choreography and colour."

BC Shellfish & Seafood Festival | Comox Valley, B.C.

Chefs Nathan Fong and Quang Dang show off their talents in Vancouver Island's Comox Valley — Photo courtesy of BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival

Every June on Vancouver Island, the BC Shellfish and Seafood Festival unites friendly locals and lucky visitors in a beautiful Comox Valley setting. Ten days of activities celebrate BC Seafood Month with delectable tastings, marine adventures, producer site tours (watch salmon get candied at Salish Seafoods and oysters shucked at Fanny Bay), crabbing experiences, chef competitions and more (45-plus events in total).

Savor anchor gatherings like Fresh Fest, the BC Shellfish Growers Association Dinner by the Sea (in a stunning waterside venue) and the final Sunday's Comox by the Sea Celebration – a full day of food, drink, chef demos and family-friendly fun.

Also enjoy feasts at regional hot spots like The White Whale, Blackfin Pub and Locals (part of Courtenay's Old House Hotel & Spa, an ideal home base for the fest). While in town, be sure to also visit the bustling Saturday Comox Valley Farmers' Market.

Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo | Dartmouth, N.S.

The Nova Scotia Tattoo began in 1979 — Photo courtesy of Destination Halifax

Started in 1979 to mark the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Nova Scotia for the International Gathering of the Clans, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo has been held every year since. Coined "the world's largest annual indoor show," the week-long event takes place during the summer, offering a true taste of the region with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions.

For those seeking something more modern, the Tattoo also includes modern music, acrobatic acts, contemporary dancing, and innovative trampoline routines.

Calgary Stampede

Many come to the Calgary Stampede specifically for the exhilarating chuckwagon races — Photo courtesy of Calgary Tourism

For many people, Calgary is synonymous with "Stampede," a 10-day extravaganza each July that attracts local families who've been attending for decades, as well as first-time revelers who descend from around the globe. Cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats return in full force, as fest goers take advantage of free pancake breakfasts around town (an annual tradition) before moving on to the main attraction.

Events range from agricultural showcases and exhilarating rodeos to concerts featuring country legends and rock royalty. Many locals declare the chuckwagon races their favorite event – a nightly occurrence (at 7:45 p.m.) that makes the ground rumble and spectators' adrenaline soar.

Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival | Souris, P.E.I.

Experience PEI's rich music tapestry at this wonderfully welcoming festival — Photo courtesy of ©Tourism PEI / Heather Ogg

Every summer during the third weekend of July, the Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival celebrates Prince Edward Island's rich music heritage. The family-friendly fest and music camp features modern on-site facilities in a tranquil setting, not to mention some of the best traditional tunes around.

Over the past four decades, the event has welcomed to its stages such stars as Natalie MacMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Richard Wood, Troy MacGillivray, Jerry Holland, The Chaisson Family and The East Pointers.

Symphony Splash | Victoria, B.C.

The 28th Victoria Symphony Splash draws thousands of Victoria residents and visitors to the Inner Harbour — Photo courtesy of Deddeda Stemler/Tourism Victoria

Each year, Victoria Symphony Splash enlivens Victoria's Inner Harbour on the Sunday before BC Day. As the largest annual outdoor symphony event in Canada, the beloved yearly gathering attracts over 45,000 Victoria residents and visitors.

The VS orchestra and special guests perform on a floating stage, ending with a grand-finale performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – accompanied by a dazzling fireworks display.

CityFolk Festival | Ottawa

CityFolk also features Marvest, a free event that collaborates with local businesses to spotlight Ottawa talent in unconventional venues — Photo courtesy of James Peltzer

This annual event, formerly known as the Ottawa Folk Festival, takes places every September at Lansdowne Park where it spotlights an eclectic mix of musical genres performed on multiple stages.  In addition to the music, you can enjoy the fare on offer from the many food and drink vendors, as well as an abundance of activities for all ages.

You might also be interested in CityFolk’s offshoot festival, Marvest, which focuses on local music presented for free in non-traditional venues.