If you thought festivals and fairs were just for summer time, think again. Canada rocks in the winter—arguably the rowdiest time to celebrate outdoors. Travellers can view ice sculptures, enjoy a bobsleigh ride, dance and dine on frozen rivers, toss an axe or saddle up a dogsled—all while sporting a weather-appropriate parka and tuques of course.
Winter heats up in Canada’s North with a full calendar of lively, quirky festivals from November to March. At the Snowking Winter Festival, artists saw ice from Great Slave Lake to build a life-sized snow palace with ice cathedral windows that houses a month of events: concerts, fashion shows, films and feasts.
It’s just as busy in the Yukon thanks to the North’s largest film festival, the 1,600-kilometre Yukon Quest international dogsled race, an ultra-endurance competition and Dawson City’s Thaw di Gras Spring Carnival. The favourite, though, is the Sourdough Rendezvous, an extravaganza of fiddling, Can-Can, dog howling and wife carrying face-offs, plus axe throwing and chainsaw chucking.
Canada’s capital city of Ottawa lights up for Winterlude, three weeks of twinkle-lit evening concerts in the park, hockey, curling, bobsleigh, dragon boat ice racing, ice sculpture carving competitions and gliding along the world’s largest natural outdoor skateway, the historic Rideau Canal. The other wintertime must-do is the TD Ottawa Winter Jazz Festival.
Quebec may be Canada’s hottest winter jubilation spot. In 400-year-old Quebec City, playful Carnaval de Quebec sees locals and visitors sled, slide and feast in an Ice Palace, parade through the cobblestone streets, race canoes on the frozen river, don bikinis for polar bear swims and dress up for an extravagant masquerade ball.
If you’re looking for an authentic locals’ fest, head to Fort St. John’s High on Ice shindig in northeastern British Columbia. This rural farming community gathers for down-home fun like ice skating, toboggan and snowshoe racing, winter bike demos, sleigh rides, an ice fishing derby, cultural performances and a high-profile ice carving competition that lures global talents.
Based in Winnipeg’s beautiful French Quarter, the Festival du Voyageur is Western Canada’s largest Winter fest and a go-to since 1969. Expect a huge international arts expo, traditional food and music, foot-stomping fiddling, historical reenactments, and vibrant Indigenous and “voyageur” (fur trade explorers) culture. There you can enjoy carvings in ice, snow, wood and…cheese.
It’d be hard to conjure a more enchanting setting than iconic Lake Louise, Alberta, frozen to a silvery sheen and set with a giant ice-brick castle. Join the Ice Magic Festival to enjoy skating past glistening ice sculptures, a drink at the frozen bar and watching master ice carvers at work. Add an Ice Bubbles Winter Photography Tour to capture stunning frozen methane gas bubbles under Abraham Lake.