Festival season has a way of splashing paint on your cheeks and adding pep in your step on your way to good food, good beer, and new friends. With Canada’s 150th anniversary coming up, you better believe that towns around the provinces are showcasing their biggest festivals yet.
In the spirit of getting to know more of the country through its cultural fairs, we’re presenting the must-see events of the year. These were chosen based on factors like national buzz, local pride, strength of headliners, and wacky sights you simply can’t miss. Here are the top 17 Canadian festivals you can’t miss in 2017.
Location: Ponoka, Alberta
Date: June 22 – June 26
Coming home with a story to tell is one of the best parts of any weekend. And trust us, you’ll have plenty to say when you return home from Freezer Burn—the Burning Man-sanctioned regional event. This Ponoka experience creates a dream-like community in the foothills for four days in June. Sure, there are paintings and sculptures and music, but the heart of the event is opening yourself up to new friendships and artistic expressions—especially with this year’s theme of “Where the Wild Things Roam.” This festival is about freedom. You ready to let go?
Other must-do activities around Ponoka: Don’t skip a tour through the Fort Ostell Museum, which displays regional pioneer and First Nations artifacts. Take a picture in front of the world’s largest bucking saddle bronc and rider sculpture off Highway 2A. And don’t miss the 75-year-old Ponoka Stampede, which begins right as the festival ends.
Location: Craven, Saskatchewan
Date: July 13-16
Price: $99 for one day, $185 for 4-day pass
Dust off that cowboy hat because Country Thunder Saskatchewan is making its second appearance in Craven this summer. Known as one of the premier country music festivals in North America, this event proudly boasts a fan base of over 100,000 spectators. This summer is going big, with a lineup that includes Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, and Cassadee Pope.
Other must-do activities around Craven: Go for a stroll around Qu’Appelle River, or take a tour at the Last Mountain House (originally built in 1869).
Location: Laurentian Valley, Ontario
Date: June 29—July 2
Maybe mindfulness is on your New Year’s resolution list and you still haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe you’re a hardcore yogi looking for a fresh round of meditation techniques. Or maybe you simply want to experience the Laurentian Valley from a yoga mat. Whatever your cause, you can expect your inspiration to increase tenfold at the Emerge Festival. Complete with yoga classes, speakers, workshops, meditation, and live music, it’s a festival that dares you to embrace new ideas.
Other must-do activities around Laurentian Valley: Make a date at the Skylight Drive-in, enjoy a round of golf at Pembroke Golf Club, or road trip out of the city and sign up for a whitewater rafting experience through Owl Rafting.
Location: Barrie, Ontario
Date: July 1-3
It’s one of the best festivals in Ontario—not to mention the longest running event in downtown Barrie. Yes, we’re talking about Promenade Days. Started in 1974, this annual summer event lights up Dunlop Street with street vendors, musicians, and rides for the kiddos. Barrie isn’t pulling any stops this year, with Canada’s 150th birthday on the horizon. Look out for waterfront fireworks on Kempenfelt Bay, enormous cakes baked by local artisans, and a Canada Day concert series.
Other must-do activities in Barrie: Try something new with ax throwing at Iron Nation Ax Throwing. Take a gander at new works of art at the MacLaren Art Centre. Or test your strength at Tough Mudder 2017.
Location: Montebello, Quebec
Date: June 22 – June 25
Price: $175 for weekend pass
Started 12 years ago by a local 17-year-old who wanted the punk rock scene closer to home, Montebello Rockfest has grown into one of the largest events in the region. That said, the festival is a truly noble example of big sounds mixed with small town pride. Start your morning with brunch in scenic downtown Montebello, then end your night with screaming guitars and blistering snare drums at the festival. This year’s lineup includes Iggy Pop, Wu Tang Clan, and Queens of the Stone Age, and the festival has swelled in popularity in recent years—2017’s show is on par for its biggest year yet.
Other must-do activities around Montebello: Sign up for a ride with Montebello Stables, one of the oldest stables in the country, or rev up the engines for an geo-scooter ride through Geo Explora.
Location: Embro, Ontario
Date: June 24
Life’s too “short” not to have a few laughs. The Wienerfest corrals over 1,000 dachshunds for a number of activities, like races, bobbing for wieners (where pooches bob for hot dogs), and costume contests. On top of that, there are dozens of vendors selling specialty art and pet care wares. Fun fact: This is the largest breed-specific event in Canada. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the festival raises funds to help abandoned pets find loving homes. We consider this festival a real “wiener.”
Other must-do activities around Embro: Tap into the spirit of Scotland when you attend the Embro Highland Games, which includes traditional piping and dance competitions. You might also want to hit the dirt when you go for a stroll on nearby Avon Trail and Embro Pond Conservation Trail.
Location: Sherbrooke, Quebec
Date: May 21-22
Bacon. All the bacon. Is it really any wonder that Sherbrooke’s Festival du Bacon saw 30,000 visitors in its first year? Year two is building to be an even tastier event, with over 60 vendors cooking up oh-so-delicious pork bits that’ll have your mouth salivating. Along with guest chefs, you can expect live music that will complement all that sizzling. Wouldn’t all local festivals and events be just a little bit better with bacon? Yum.
Other must-do activities around Sherbrooke: Catch a matinee at Maison du Cinéma, the largest movie theater in the Eastern Townships. Check out the Sherbrooke Fresco Murals Tour, which transforms downtown into an open-air museum. And see science in action when you visit the Sherbrooke Nature Science Museum.
Location: Nanaimo, British Columbia
Date: July 21-23
The world can be a serious place, but that’s all thrown out with the bathwater when you head to Nanaimo each July. Cast your eyes to the water and watch 200 participants race each other in motorized bathtubs for 58 km. This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the race, and you won’t want to miss the extra fanfare this year. Your own bathtub will never look the same.
Other must-do activities around Nanaimo: Make a stop at Wolf Brewing Co. to admire their bottle artwork (which was created by fans) and sip on some glorious ales. While in town, you might also want to sign up for a diving tour with Shepherd Charters. Just don’t drink and dive.
Location: Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario
Date: October 6-14
The amber liquid splashes in your glass, the sounds of upbeat music wafts through the air, and if there was a time and a place for the word “merriment” oh boy, this would be the place. We’re talking about Kitchener-Waterloo’s annual Oktoberfest. How immense is this event? It’s the second largest Oktoberfest in the world and sees nearly 1 million visitors each fall. If this festival has somehow escaped your attention, this is the year to finally say cheers to the good life.
Other must-do activities around Kitchener and Waterloo: Take a tour through THEMUSEUM, which has innovative cultural exhibits from around the country. Want to blast golf balls instead? Head to the popular Doon Valley Golf Course or Rockway Golf Course.
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date: July 6-9
Price: $199 for 4-day pass
You simply can’t talk about summers in Winnipeg without mentioning the epic Winnipeg Folk Festival. Now in its 44th year, the event is bigger than ever with nine stages and two dozen artisans bringing art, ceramics, and homemade fashions. Grab a ticket early. With roughly 80,000 people in attendance each year, you won’t want to miss this top celebration in Canada.
Other must-do activities around Winnipeg: Make a stop at the all-too-relevant Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Go for a walk and shopping spree through The Exchange District. And don’t miss a stroll through Assiniboine Park and Zoo.
Location: St. Stephen, New Brunswick
Date: Aug 5-12
Did someone say chocolate? Because if you haven’t been to St. Stephen’s Chocolate Fest yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. This event includes chocolate-infused lunches, dinners, and sweet treats. You can even craft your own chocolates and sample new flavors. Fun fact: St. Stephen is considered “Canada’s Chocolate Town,” as Charlotte County is home to the country’s oldest family-owned candy company. Trust us; this place knows sweets.
Other must-do activities around St. Stephen: Keep the chocolate adventure going when you stop into the Chocolate Museum, or enjoy rich treats from Ganong Chocolatier.
Location: Parksville, British Columbia
Date: July 14 – August 20
Price: $3 donation recommended
Back in 1982, the attendance rate of the Parksville Beach Festival was 100 people. These days? Nearly 130,000 people slip on their flip-flops and head down to the shore to see the towering sand sculptures. A ton of local and international artists are travelling to the city this summer to showcase their epic sandy wonders. Remember that sunscreen, and we won’t judge if you find yourself investing in a good ole sandcastle pail when it’s over.
Other must-do activities around Parksville: Get to know the water up close when you sign up for a kayaking tour with Adventuress Sea Kayaking. Or, if you prefer land, drive over to Butterfly World to see over 400 winged creatures.
Location: Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
Date: July 7-9
Here are two things you may not expect to go together but do in a perfect way: An enormous country music festival and the Canadian Atlantic. This is exactly why you need to make a point to swing by Cavendish this year. Once a normal cow pasture, this area transforms into an event that draws out 70,000+ music fans. This year’s lineup outdoes itself with names like Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, and Kip Moore.
Other must-do activities around Cavendish: Prepare to scream on the coasters at Sandspit Amusement Park. Splash into the wade pool at Shining Waters Family Fun Park. And grab some grub at Avonlea Village.
Location: Collingwood, Ontario
Date: July 28-30
Price: $45.20 for General Admission
It’s one of the more unique festivals in Canada and a must-do on your bucket list—if, for nothing more than, your Instagram account. We’re talking about Elvis Festival, the largest Elvis dress-up event of its kind. Get to know the town of Collingwood while dressed up like the king and stop by live performances of, you guessed it, old Elvis tunes. There’s even a top-rate singing competition, dance party, and beer garden. The VIP guest list includes Memphis Jones, who’ll be on deck for a one-night performance, as well as several Storyteller Chat roundtables to talk about the big man’s life. If you ain’t nothing but a hound dog, this festival is the place to howl.
Other must-do activities around Collingwood: Take a swing at Cascade Putting Course, the 18-hole mini golf course in nearby Blue Mountain Village. Do some tasting at Georgian Hill Vineyards. And sign up for a class at the Collingwood Circus Club.
Location: Yellowknife, Northerwest Territories
Date: March 1-26
Price: $5 daytime and various evening events
Want to squeeze in one more winter memory with your kids? You’ll want to head up to Yellowknife to the famous Snowking’s Winter Festival. Now in its 22nd year, the event’s star attraction is the huge ice castle that evokes an unparalleled sense of magic. You can also count on art, music, dance, and a children’s play area. Hurry! Unlike the Game of Thrones universe, winter is very quietly melting into spring.
Other must-do activities in Yellowknife: Make a stop at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre and learn more about the history and legacy of the Northwest Territories. Take a tour along the Yellowknife Old Town Soundwalk. And sync up with Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures for everything from snowmobile tours in winter to Northern Pike fishing in summer.
Location: Calgary, Alberta
Date: July 7-16
Price: Packages (concert + one rodeo show + entry to Stampede Park) start at $188
You can’t talk about the biggest festivals of the year and not mention the iconic Calgary Stampede. The 10-day event features rodeos, carnival rides, agriculture displays, chuckwagon races, and the popular Stampede Parade. The event is also known for its concert series, and this year is the biggest yet, with names like Alabama and Johnny Reid headlining.
Other must-do activities in Calgary: Learn more about turn-of-the-century railroad towns at Heritage Park. Scream down the coasters at Calaway Park. And take the kids out for bowling and arcades at the ever-popular Shakers Fun Centre.
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Date: July 1
You didn’t think we’d forget Ottawa, now did you? The nation’s capital is putting on a series of dazzling shows to celebrate Canada’s big day. Parliament Hill will host the booming President’s Choice® Canada Day fireworks, Major’s Hill Park will spotlight cultural performances and exhibits, and the Canadian Museum of History will include inflatable structures and games for kids. Honestly? Just go. You won’t be disappointed.
Other must-do activities in Ottawa: Learn more about the nation’s past with a stop at the Canadian Museum of History. Grab a drink at the popular Broken Stick Brewing Company. And rent a bike from Scooteretti to tour the city.
You want to get to know a town? Go to its biggest event of the year. The young, the young at heart, new lovers, new friends—everyone is welcome. Make this the year you experience everything the country has to offer at the biggest events of 2017!