Art, music, and culture are the most common themes for Northwest Territories festivals, which begin with Inuvik’s Sunrise Festival each new year, and end with New Year’s Eve fireworks above Hay River and Yellowknife’s Frame Lake. Not even the notoriously long, cold, and dark Northwest Territories winters can put a freeze on the steady flow of festivals throughout the year.
Inuvik Sunrise Festival
Each January, one of Canada’s northernmost communities celebrates the end of 30 days of polar darkness by bundling up in their warmest clothing, gathering around the community bonfire, and watching the year’s first sunrise after months of hibernation. Fireworks add extra light to the Northwest Territories’ first festival of the year.
Snowking Winter Festival
Yellowknife begins each new year by constructing an elaborate, life-size snow castle on Yellowknife Bay. The window panes are made of ice and its rooms include a courtyard, café, auditorium, slide, and even a traditional igloo. Two months later, the castle is complete and ready to welcome visitors to Yellowknife’s biggest winter celebration, which kicks off with a large fireworks display and a speech by the Snowking himself. The castle hosts hockey games, weekend children’s plays, film nights, puppet shows, and live musical performances during this lively month-long event. Music fans can choose between Tuesday night impromptu jam sessions, a ‘Royal Rave’ multimedia dance party, the traditional fiddling at the Snowking’s Royal Ball, and much more. Another fireworks display closes the Northwest Territories’ festival.
Early spring weather may still be chilly in Inuvik, but this northern town still finds plenty of ways to celebrate between late March and early April. There’s enough snow on the ground for dog sledding and snowshoe racing, and the ice is still frozen enough for a pond hockey tournament. Muskrat skinning, log sawing, and tea boiling are among the festival’s unique traditional activities. Visitors can warm up with hot refreshments, soup, and bannock, a type of flat bread, prepared by local community groups and served in tents.
Each April, the Western Arctic community of Tuktoyaktuk celebrates its whaling heritage with this festival filled with log sawing, talent contests, square dancing, and harpoon throwing. Tuktoyaktuk’s weather remains cool enough in April for igloo building, dog racing, and snowmobile racing.
National Aboriginal Day
The longest day of the year in the Northwest Territories, June 21, is officially National Aboriginal Day. The Yellowknife Summer Solstice lasts a week and the sun rarely sets during the festival’s entertaining performances, interactive educational activities, and competitive golf tournament. Past celebrations have attracted more than 55 vendors and over 120 performers.
Great Northern Arts Festival
None of the numerous arts and crafts festivals across the Northwest Territories rival the size of Inuvik’s 10-day Great Northern Arts Festival, held each July. More than 120 artisans and craftspeople from around the Northwest Territories, as well as other parts of the world make the long trek to Inuvik to showcase their art, music, and filmmaking skills. Fish scale art and homemade drumsticks are among the most unique creations on display.
Folk on the Rocks
Since 1980, Yellowknife’s Long Lake has hosted this lively three-day music festival during July’s third weekend. Attracting over 200 musicians from across the Northwest Territories, the rest of Canada, and the world, Folk on the Rocks isn’t just a music festival. Spectators can also enjoy sampling specialty foods and browsing handmade arts and crafts while musicians play onstage.
Hay River Fall Fair
The South Slave community of Hay River has held this annual autumn fair during September’s second weekend since 1977. Over 160 arts, crafts, and produce exhibits are judged during an annual competition, and many exhibitors also display handmade carvings and other crafts for leisure. This casual event also features a petting zoo and food vendors.