Originally published in Sympatico.ca
Carnaval de Quebec, Quebec City
Quebec’s Winter Carnival is the largest winter festival in the world, dating back to 1894. Its reputation for good times and festivities places it right up there with Rio and New Orleans, albeit with its icy touch. 475 tons of water is used to create snow sculptures, including an incredible ice palace. There are various competitions, such as dog sledding, canoe and sleigh racing, and things really get hopping when thousands descend for the night parade, ushered in by the boisterous Bonhomme, and his naughty knights.
Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival draws over half a million people, gathering around North America’s largest snow playground, and at 8km long, the world’s largest ice rink along the Rideau Canal. Ice-skating shows, a triathlon, as well as an annual Bed Race take place along this strip. If you’re hungry, 55 restaurants across the city offer special prix-fixe dinner menus during Winterlude. You can walk across Ottawa River to Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau, and catch a fantastic snow sculpture competition, where each entrant must measure at least five metres high, three metres long, and weigh 40 tons.
Winter Festival of Lights, Niagara Falls
Most of Niagara is illuminated during this annual festival, with over 125 animated lighting displays and three million tree and ground lights creating a wonderful winter wonderland. A rainbow of spotlights illuminate the waterfalls to spectacular effect. Concerts, performances and fireworks add to the festivities. Over one million people attend the Winter Festival of Lights, with entrance free by donation.
Toonik Tyme, Iqaluit
Come April, Inuit in Nunavut celebrate the return of the sun, absent through much of the winter. As the days finally start getting longer, residents gather for a week of games, music and feasting. With temperatures still well below zero, the Toonik Tyme festival brings the community together showcasing Inuit traditions and skills. Events include seal hunting, igloo building, dog team races, fishing and traditional outdoor games. The snowmobile uphill climb and drag races bring the daredevils together, while a craft fair and other events demonstrate the rich culture alive in the Canadian Arctic.
Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg
This annual festival celebrates the history and culture of the fur traders who discovered and explored Eastern Canada in the late 17th and early 18th century. Initially operating outside the law, these French fur traders became known as voyageurs, using canoes to carry furs and supplies to various outposts, including one called Fort Rouge, which eventually became the city we know today as Winnipeg. Held in the French Quarter (Saint Boniface), the Festival du Voyageur includes various events, music, a torchlight walk, beard growing contest and celebration of Cajun culture.
Jasper in January, Jasper
The small mountain town of Jasper comes alive for this 2-week festival, offering music, culture, sporting and culinary events. Jasper National Park welcomes its guests with a range of winter activities, including reduced lift ticket fairs to enjoy the slopes. Daily events include wildlife exhibits, cook-offs, concerts, sports, demonstrations and pub crawls. Also in Alberta, Banff and Lake Louise kicked off their season with the Winterstart Festival, featuring World Cup skiing and snowboarding events.
Caribou Carnival, Yellowknife
Held annually since 1955, the Caribou Carnival is a celebration of life in the Far North, evolving from a trappers gathering into a spring celebration that attracts thousands of people from around the region. Originally, only the toughest men competed in various events to be the Bush King. Today, survival games and competitions take place at the Snowstage. You can also catch dogsled derbies, feast on pancake breakfasts, and dance away at fiddle parties.
Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, Yukon
A sourdough is the name given to anyone who has braved a complete Yukon winter, from the “freeze up to the thaw” of the Yukon Winter. With over 30,000 people enduring temperatures below -40C each winter, this gold rush inspired festival is a chance to squash the cabin fever and release some energy. There are various events to watch, or better yet participate in. There’s the Flour Packing Competition, Axe Toss, Chainsaw Chuck, Log Splitting, and wisely, separate activities for the Kids Fest. You don’t have to be a sourdough to earn your stripes.
Montreal Highlights Festival
Billed as a celebration of light, food and culture, five major events make up the Fête de la Lumière. There are more than 100 performing arts events, across music, dance and visual arts. Top chefs and winemakers from around the world gather for the SAQ Wine and Dine Experience. There is a massive Celebration of Light, with fireworks displays over a bustling funfair. Old Montreal turns into an all-night, outdoor art gallery, complete with performances and installations. Known as Nuit Blanche, many art galleries open their doors throughout the night too.
World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler
This popular 10-day festival brings together professional snow sports, music, art, film, fashion and mountain life. While the world’s best ski and snowboard riders compete, famous musicians perform on free outdoor stages and at clubs and bars throughout Whistler. There’s also fashion shows, film and photography exhibitions, a dog parade, skate zone and terrific spring skiing on some of the world’s most spectacular runs. The free concerts on the main stage in the village is billed as the Canada’s largest free outdoor concert series, and in the past has featured such names as Five Alarm Funk, Big Sugar, Metric and Michael Franti.