Summer may be Ontario’s prime festival season, but even the province’s cold winters bring reasons to celebrate during Ottawa’s Winterlude festival and Toronto’s Cavacade of Lights. Many of Ontario’s diverse ethnic groups celebrate their heritage through lively festivals like Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival and Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest.
Visitors who want to glide along the Rideau Canal during this annual cold weather celebration in Canada’s capital may wish to do so on a weekday as most Winterlude activities happen on February’s first three weekends. Confederation Park’s illuminated ice sculptures, a workshop on igloo building, and the biggest playground on ice in the world are among Winterlude’s most unique highlights. Sampling the freshly made beaver tail pastries sold at Winterlude is the best way to keep warm during this frosty festival, which extends to Gatineau’s Jacques Cartier Park in neighboring Québec, the site of the Snowflake Kingdom.
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began as a fairly modest two play festival in 1952. Today, this festival which now lasts between April and November is the biggest classical repertory theatre on the continent. Although the bard’s works are still the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s main focus, the festival has now grown to include plays by many more talented authors, including at least one musical per season. This festival attracts many of the world’s finest actors and spectators from all four corners of the globe.
Ottawa Tulip Festival
Every May, approximately three million tulips blossom throughout Canada’s national capital during the Ottawa Tulip Festival, whose central archives are exhibited at Dow’s Lake Pavilion. The largest tulip festival on Earth also includes concerts, parades, fireworks, and guided tulip tours. A shuttle service is available for the duration of the festival.
Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival
The name of this Toronto festival, formerly known as Caribana, may have recently changed, but the spirit of this annual celebration of Caribbean culture remains intact. No other North American street festival exceeds the annual Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival attendance of over two million people during the first weekend of every August. Like its counterparts across the Caribbean, this festival features colorfully dressed dancers and lively calypso music, as well as the final Parade of Bands through Toronto’s main streets.
Rideau Canal Festival
The first weekend of August is a long weekend in Ontario, and Ottawa marks this summer holiday with this environmentally-friendly festival on the Rideau Canal. The first Rideau Canal Festival, held in 2007, was also the first Canadian festival which aimed to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. This family-friendly festival focuses on active lifestyles and the Rideau Canal’s interesting history. Canal tours, art exhibits, bicycle tours, a fireworks display, and an impressive flotilla are among the festival’s highlights.
Canadian National Exhibition
Each year, well over a million people attend the three-week long festival most Torontonians call simply ‘the Ex.’ The Canadian National Exhibition began as an event to promote Canadian agriculture and technology in 1879, but has now grown into the biggest fair in the entire country. Many of the buildings in Exhibition Place are now significant heritage sites. The Ex begins in the middle of August, ends on Labor Day, and now features a wide variety of attractions in addition to its traditional agricultural exhibits and contests. Air, acrobatics, music, dog, garden, and international food shows are all part of the Canadian National Exhibition, which includes a separate children’s midway in addition to its thrilling regular midway. Visitors can participate in beach volleyball or surfing at the Flowrider Splash Zone or enjoy the daily Mardi Gras parades.
Niagara Wine Festival
Wine lovers won’t want to miss this September celebration of the Niagara region’s renowned wineries. Although the festival’s hub is St Catharines’ historic Montebello Park, the celebrations take place across the Niagara region. In addition to several guided tours and tastings of the region’s finest wineries, the Niagara Wine Festival also includes live entertainment, food, wine seminars, and one of the biggest street parades in the nation.
Kitchener Waterloo Oktoberfest
Like the original Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, this celebration in the southwestern Ontario city originally named Berlin includes plenty of polka performances, bratwurst, beer, and traditional German costumes. Those unable to enjoy this taste of Germany in Ontario in person can watch the annual Oktoberfest parade television broadcast on Canada’s Thanksgiving Day.
Toronto Cavalcade of Lights
Toronto’s biggest Christmas celebrations officially kick off at the end of October, when Nathan Phillips Square’s towering Christmas tree is illuminated with more than 100,000 glowing lights. This marks the start of dozens of other impressive Toronto lighting displays. Free musical performances, an outdoor ice skating rink, and displays of fireworks are the highlights at Nathan Phillips Square during this month-long winter celebration.