British Columbia celebrates some fabulous annual festivals, carnivals, events, and outdoor recreation competitions. Time your visit to BC to coincide with some remarkable natural spectacles of the animal kingdom, outdoor music recitals, local art fairs, and natural or historical exhibitions – or just come along and stare at the crazy things people do for work and pleasure. BC offers a wonderfully rich and colourful array of local festivities, entertainment, and outdoor pursuits.
Festivals & Events on Vancouver Island and BC Gulf Islands
Victoria Film Festival (February)
The Victoria Film Festival is a selection of films that they scoured the earth to find that you might not normally have a chance to see. The organizers bring the films together for a ten-day celebration, and often the filmmakers come to join in. Not only do you get to see some of the best films of the year, you get to hear what the filmmaker has to say. Lots of people buy Film Passes to see films everyday during the festival, or they pick up the discount 5-Film or 10-Film ticket packages.
For more information visit: www.victoriafilmfestival.com
Pacific Rim Whale Festival (mid March to early April)
The northward migration of an estimated 21,000 Gray whales along the west coast of Vancouver Island has heralded the coming of spring for thousands of years. Grays travel close to shore, pausing to feed in shallow waters, providing excellent viewing opportunities from strategic shore locations. The greatest number of whales can be seen in the spring, although many whales remain in local waters to feed until the return migration to Mexico in October. Besides the unique opportunity of seeing these huge mammals, ocean scientists and whale researchers present education programs about whale migration, biology and the conservation efforts that have brought the Gray whales back from the edge of extinction. If you want a closer look at these magnificent animals, venture out onto the open Pacific aboard local charter boats offering scheduled whale watching tours from Tofino or Ucluelet.
For more information visit: Pacific Rim Whale Festival
Brant Wildlife Festival (April)
The Brant Festival is held in Parksville and Qualicum Beach in early April each year to celebrate the migratory stopover of over 20,000 Brant geese. Each spring, immense flocks of Brant geese descend on the shores of Vancouver Island for a last major food stop before continuing their amazing journey north to the Alaskan breeding grounds. The communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach celebrate this wonderful natural event with the three-day Brant Festival that includes nature talks, guided tours of marsh, forest and seaside habitats, photography workshops and a birding competition.
For more information visit: www.brantfestival.bc.ca
Swiftsure Sailing Race (May)
A fleet of the most competitive racing sailboats converges on Victoria for the annual Swiftsure race, the longest-running yacht race in the Pacific Northwest. The challenge, hosted by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, attracts around 200 boats in the short, middle and long-distance events that take competitors out and across the Juan de Fuca Strait and back, providing spectators with a colourful display of boats and spinnakers.
For more information visit: www.swiftsure.org
Great Walk (June)
North America’s toughest pledge walk – 63-1/2 kilometres along gravel forestry roads in some of the most rugged and beautiful country in the world. The annual walkathon between Tahsis and Gold River attracts thousands of outdoor enthusiasts to raise money for charity.
For more information visit: www.greatwalk.com
Jazz Fest International (June)
Lovers of jazz can take in music by jazz performers from around the world when they grace Victoria’s stages for 10 days and nights in June. Various indoor and outdoor venues in downtown Victoria host the festival as the city heats up with more than 250 of the world’s best jazz, blues and world beat artists.
For more information visit: www.jazzvictoria.ca
Nanaimo Marine Festival (July)
Visitors won’t want to miss the world-famous Bathtub Race held during the Nanaimo Marine Festival in late July. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds come from around the world to race across the Georgia Strait in bathtubs, from Nanaimo to Vancouver. Competitors always take the 48-km run very seriously, but the day is filled with tons of fun and laughs for both contestants and spectators alike. Hundreds of outboard powered “tubbers” plane their zany craft at high speed across the strait in their quest for the much-coveted first prize.
For more information visit: Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society
Filberg Festival (August)
The Filberg Festival, reputed to be the best Arts and Crafts festival in the Pacific Northwest, offers an amazing selection of the finest quality work by BC resident artists, from pottery to handmade toys. This outdoor show and sale is displayed in the gardens of Comox Valley’s historic Filberg Lodge. Entertainment is local too, provided in many musical styles.
For more information visit: www.filbergfestival.com
Victoria Fringe Festival (September)
Over the Labour Day weekend theatre troupes from our own backyard and around the world present entertaining performances at different venues all over Victoria. For the very best in comedy, drama, dance, magic, music, story telling and more, the Fringe is the best ticket in town.
For more information visit: www.victoriafringe.com
Symphony Splash (August)
One of the grandest events in Victoria’s summer season is the annual Symphony Splash. The Victoria Symphony Orchestra performs on a floating stage secured in Victoria’s beautiful Inner Harbour. The free show traditionally climaxes with a resounding rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture amidst a dazzling display of fireworks and booming cannons.
For more information visit: www.victoriasymphony.ca
Victoria Dragon Boat Festival (August)
Spectacular dragon boats roar into Victoria’s Inner Harbour, providing a colourful spectacle, with organized entertainment onshore.
For more information visit: www.victoriadragonboat.com
Royal British Columbia Museum
The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria is one of the foremost cultural institutions in the world, and always manages to produce remarkable annual feature exhibitions.
For more information visit: Royal BC Museum
Victoria Classic Boat Festival (September)
Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour is the place to be on the Labour Day weekend, when around 100 classic sail and power boats from throughout the Pacific Coast and beyond arrive for the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. The festival is one of the Pacific Coast’s most celebrated displays of heritage sail and power craft, open to vessels of traditional plank-on-frame construction built prior to 1956, or newer vessels that are built to pre-1956 designs.
Festivals & Events in Vancouver, Coast & Mountains
Abbotsford International Airshow (August)
Attracting 300,000 spectators, this is North America’s largest aerial extravaganza.
For more information visit: www.abbotsfordairshow.com
Dragon Boat Festival (June)
Take in a weekend of racing and cultural activities in Vancouver. The Dragon Boat Festival is recognized as the largest and most celebrated dragon boat event in North America, and one of the premiere Dragon Boat Festivals in the world. The festival will once again set new standards in dragon boat excellence.
For more information visit: www.dragonboatbc.ca
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival (June / September)
Bard on the Beach is a professional summer Shakespeare Festival in Vancouver. Located near the beach on beautiful English Bay, plays are presented in the 740-seat main performance tent. June through September. The Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival was established in 1990, with a mandate to provide Vancouver residents and tourists with affordable, accessible Shakespearean productions of the finest quality.
For more information visit: www.bardonthebeach.org
Cloverdale Rodeo (May)
Top cowboys and cowgirls on the professional rodeo circuit compete in traditional events.
For more information visit: www.cloverdalerodeo.com
MusicFest Vancouver (August)
Explore extraordinary music. MusicFest Vancouver brings you its annual feast of classical, jazz and world music presentations in mid August. Ten days, international and local artists, dozens of performances, and a diverse musical repertoire that spans the centuries and the planet. MusicFest Vancouver offers you a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the broadest range of live music performed with passion, skill and creativity.
For more information visit: www.musicfestvancouver.ca
Pacific National Exhibition (August / September)
A variety of concerts, agricultural exhibitions and an amusement park are highlights of this family fair. Millions of people have visited the PNE since it first began as the premier entertainment and industrial exhibition on the west coast in 1910.
For more information visit: www.pne.ca
Vancouver Folk Music Festival (July)
The festival offers nearly 70 hours of music on multiple stages in a breathtakingly beautiful outdoor venue. In addition to both traditional and contemporary folk and folk-fusion music, the festival offers an array of informative workshops, a colourful folk art marketplace, and a mouthwatering selection of healthful foods and beverages to keep everyone’s strength up.
For more information visit: www.thefestival.bc.ca
Vancouver International Fringe Festival (September)
The Vancouver Fringe is a celebration of every kind of theatre imaginable. Over 11 days in September, more than 80 different theatre artists and companies come together to share their creativity on stage. Audiences are as varied as the performances with theatrical offerings for all tastes and ages. The uniqueness of the Fringe comes from the “everyone is welcome” selection technique—the Mainstage shows are literally drawn out of a hat, giving all artists a chance to participate. There is also a category for artists who find their own venue, Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV). The Fringe welcomes their performances as well, some of them in surprising locations like inside bathrooms or in the back of a car. Many of these are part of the Fringe Onsite program, which cultivates this type of site-specific work for the nooks and crannies on Granville Island. The Fringe revels in its identity as part theatre, part party. Every night of the Festival, Fringe artists, audiences, volunteers, and everyone involved, are welcomed to take in live music and share their experiences at the Fringe Bar. With over 500 volunteers supporting 700 performances in 11 days, the Fringe is a cultural experience unlike any other—bustling with the energy of an unwieldy stable of untamed creative beasts.
For more information visit: www.vancouverfringe.com
Ironman Canada Triathlon (August)
This event in Whistler is a sporting event like no other held in Canada. Over 1,700 of the fittest athletes in the world test themselves on one of the most difficult athletic challenges there is: a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race, and a 26.2-mile marathon run. This is a race that takes the best athletes in the world just over 8 hours. The rest of the field has up to 17 hours to complete the course. Just finishing is an incredible achievement.
For more information visit: www.ironman.ca
Festivals & Events in the Thompson Okanagan of BC
Okanagan Fest-of-Ale (April)
This event has become one of the largest festivals of beer in the province. For the beer aficionado, the annual Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is the place to be. At least 70 different brews, great entertainment, exceptional food treats and a spirit of fun and conviviality are all together for what is the first of Penticton’s great summer season events.
For more information visit: www.fest-of-ale.bc.ca
Okanagan International Children’s Festival (May)
Okanagan International Children’s Festival features the world’s finest musicians, actors, acrobats, comedians and storytellers! This international celebration of the arts stimulates global awareness and an appreciation of cultural diversity. It is an opportunity to delight in the world of imagination and open the door to creative possibilities for your children.
For more information visit: www.okchildrensfest.org
Kamloopa Pow Wow (August)
The Kamloopa Pow Wow is one of the largest celebrations of First Nations’ culture and heritage in Western Canada. The Pow Wow is a spectacular expression of the Secwepemc people’s heritage and is a vibrant display of storytelling, song, and dance in traditional regalia. The Kamloopa Pow Wow represents many years of stories and events from previous years packed into three exciting days at the Secwepemc Pow Wow Grounds, located 2 minutes from the city centre, alongside the South Thompson River in Kamloops.
Penticton Peach Festival (August)
The Peachfest is held in Penticton on the second weekend in August. This five-day event features over thirty different activities ranging from live entertainment to fireworks to arts and crafts displays to parades, and everything in between.
For more information visit: www.peachfest.com
Vernon Winter Carnival (February)
The Vernon Winter Carnival offers 100 events to choose from, including a parade, snow sculpture competitions, sleigh rides, stock car ice-racing derby, ice sculptures, polar bear swim and Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.
For more information: www.vernonwintercarnival.com
Okanagan Wine Festivals
Okanagan Wine Festivals have become synonymous with celebration of the spring growing season and the annual fall harvest, as well as the new Icewine Festival. They provide an experience for the truly serious wine lover, and those keen on experiencing the character of the festivals. The annual Icewine Festival runs for three days in January. The annual Spring Festival runs for 4 days through the first weekend in May each year, and now features more than 40 events. The annual Fall Festival takes place over 10 days in early to mid October featuring over 110 events.
For more information visit: www.owfs.com
Festivals & Events in the Kootenays and BC Rockies
Creston Valley Blossom Festival (May)
The Creston area has the mildest climate in southeast BC, and spring arrives early. The annual Creston Valley Blossom Festival celebrates that fact and takes place during the May long weekend in Creston. Residents and visitors enjoy the Grand Parade and a variety of activities, including ball tournaments, the Demo Derby, Childrens’ Parade, and craft and flea markets.
For more information: www.blossomfestival.ca
Sam Steele Days (June)
On Sam Steele Day in Cranbrook, residents and visitors celebrate Superintendent Sam Steele’s arrival in Fort Steele in 1887. The festival offers fun for the whole family, including a parade, logger sports, pancake breakfast, barbecues, fastball, soccer, tennis tournaments, and the Sam Steele Sweetheart Pageant.
For more information: www.samsteeledays.org
Festivals & Events in the Cariboo, Chilcotin, Coast
Bella Coola Valley Rodeo (July)
Events at the Bella Coola Valley Rodeo include a gymkhana, bronco riding, barrel racing, calf tie-down, team roping, bull riding, and the infamous cow patty bingo. Don’t forget Bullarama where contestants bid on their own cowboy and a share of the substantial purse. Held at the Rodeo Grounds in Bella Coola in early July.
Billy Barker Days Festival (July)
The Billy Barker Days Festival is held in Le Bourdais Park in Quesnel in July.
For more information: www.billybarkerdays.ca
Cariboo Cross-Country Ski Marathon (February)
The community of 100 Mile House is the self-professed ‘International Nordic Ski Capital’, and who can argue with a town that displays the world’s largest pair of cross-country skis outside its Visitor Centre. The town hosts a 200-km/125-mile machine-groomed trail system. No wonder the local Cariboo Marathon attracts an international field of skiers, annually, during the first weekend in February.
For more information: www.100milenordics.com
Discovery Coast Music Festival (July)
Enjoy innovative and exciting live performances from all across Canada amidst the pristine coastal landscape of Bella Coola. This family-orientated event boasts an eclectic lineup of music, including roots, rock, world, blues, folk, and more. With something for everyone, the festival features an interactive Children’s site, food, craft vendors, and workshops. Held at the Fall Fair Grounds in Bella Coola in late July.
For more information: www.bellacoolamusic.org
Williams Lake Stampede (July)
A world-famous event that has withstood the test of time, tracing its earliest roots to the 1920s, when cowboys raced down the side of Fox Mountain. Contestants from Western Canada and the US compete for top prize money, and chances in the big rodeos in Calgary, Edmonton and Las Vegas. Bareback bronc, boys steer riding, bull-riding, calf-roping, ladies barrel racing, novice bareback, novice saddle bronc, saddle bronc, and steer wrestling make up the roster.
For more information: www.williamslakestampede.com
Festivals & Events in Northern BC and Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
The Bulkley Valley Exhibition (August)
Agriculture is king at this four-day fair held in late August and preceded by a festive parade. Over 20,000 people visit each year to see livestock, horse and dog shows, take rides at the Midway fairground, and cheer for their favourite cowboy at the BCRA-sanctioned rodeo. Events include saddle bronc, steer wrestling, and the wild cow milking contest, so grab a seat and hold on tight.
The Edge of the World Music Festival (July)
This annual, three-day music festival is held in July on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). Expect eclectic performances, stalls selling arts and crafts and food, as well as workshops for kids. If you’re feeling fit, sign up for the marathon race held during the festival weekend.