Cities are often defined by their signature festivals - Edinburgh and Edmonton by their Fringe Festivals, Montreal by its Jazz and Comedy Festivals, New Orleans by Mardi Gras, Quebec City by Winter Carnival and Rio de Janerio by Carnival.
Similarly, Calgary is known internationally as the Stampede City, the result of the 100+ year old Calgary Stampede. However, over the past few decades Calgary has become more than just the Stampede. Spruce Meadows has made Calgary the show jumping capital of North America. Beakerhead celebrates Calgary’s emergence as an international engineering and science hub. And SLED Island reflects Calgary’s evolution as a budding new music city.
For anyone considering a visit Calgary in 2018, here is the line-up the City’s major festivals - something for almost everyone!
High Performance Rodeo, Jan 3 to 28
In 1987, Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit collective of artists produced the “Secret Elevator Experimental Performance Festival,” renamed the following year as the “High Performance Rodeo.” Over the past 30+ years it has evolved into one of North America’s best contemporary art festivals, featuring local and international theatre, music, dance and visual arts, a true multidisciplinary celebration of the arts. This year it offers up 23 sizzling shows, 153 performances at 15 different venues.
Link: High Performance Rodeo
Big Taste, Mar 2 to 11
Foodies won’t want to miss the Big Taste where 80+ restaurants in City Centre offer special 3-course fix price menus for lunch and dinner. There is even a Gourmet Big Taste 5-course dinner for $65. The Big Taste is Canada’s oldest restaurant festival and offers a chance to experience Calgary’s contemporary dining scene – Cotto, Pad Thai, Foreign Concept, Yellow Door, Pigeonhole, Bar Vonder Fels, Charbar, Model Milk, need I go on.
Link: Big Taste
Calgary Performing Arts Festival, April 23 to May 13
In 1931, a small group of Calgary musicians created The Calgary Music Festival held at the Knox United Church. By 1954, the festival was so large the organizers asked the Kiwanis Clubs of Calgary to take ownership of the Festival, and became the Calgary Kiwanis Festival. It continued to evolve into one of the largest amateur competitive music festivals in North America by the end of the 20th century. In 2014, the festival included theatre, resulting in another name change - The Calgary Performing Arts Festival.
Today, the Festival has over 4,000 entries and 12,000 participants performing in the new Taylor Centre for Performing Arts Centre at Mount Royal University.
Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, April 26 to 29
Calgary Expo is a four-day mash-up of comics, sci-fi, gaming and cosplay fun for all ages. In addition to headliners, hundreds of vendors, workshops and talks and costumes transform Calgary’s Stampede Park into a colourful fantasyland for over 100,000 visitors. Don’t miss the parade on the Friday - everyone can participate as long as you dress-up!
Link: Calgary Expo
Calgary International Children’s Festival, May 23 to 26
Established in 1987, the Calgary International Children’s Festival has grown to become Canada’s second largest Children’s Festival. Each year it not only transforms the four theatres and concert hall of Arts Commons into a giant children’s playground, but the surrounding Olympic Plaza as well. A wonderful festival for the young and the young at heart.
4th Street Lilac, Festival June 3
Join 100,000+ Calgary in celebrating the arrival of spring at the 4th Street Lilac Festival. The street comes alive with six stages and 500 vendors creating Calgary’s best street party along 4th Street SW from the Elbow River to 17th Avenue SW.
Spruce Meadows, June to September
Spruce Meadows is one of North America’s most unique festival sites, offering not one, but five major international show jumping events annually – National (June 6 to 10th), Continental (June 13 to 17), North American, (July 4 to 8th) Pan American (June 26 to July 1st) and Masters (Sept 5 to 8th). If you love horses, this is a “must see.”
Link: Spruce Meadows
Sled Island, June 20 to 24
Sled Island Music & Arts Festival is a curated mash-up of music genres and art with more than 250 events at 35 different venues (record stores to Olympic Plaza) including bands, comedy, films and exhibitions involving local and international headliners and emerging artists.
Link: Sled Island
Calgary Stampede, July 6 to 15
Billed as the “Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth,” the Calgary Stampede combines a 2-hour long parade attracting over 200,000+ people, as well as a Rodeo, Chuckwagon Races, Grandstand Show, Agricultural Exhibition, Midway, Indian Village and Music Festival (headliners have included Garth Brooks, Katy Perry, Keith Urban, Reba McEntire) that attracts over one million visitors of all ages and backgrounds to Stampede Park.
Link: Calgary Stampede
Calgary International Folk Festival, July 26 to 29
No city can match the pastoral setting of Calgary International Folk Festival held at Prince’s Island Park located in the middle of the majestic Bow River and in the shadows of Calgary’s glittering downtown skyscrapers. It’s a magical place with glowing sunsets each night on the Main Stage headliners like Coeur De Pirate, Tanya Tagaq or Blue Rodeo in 2017. During the day, enjoy the six stages for an up close and personal experience under the canopy of 100-year old cottonwood trees.
Historic Calgary Week, July 27 to August 6
For history buffs, don’t miss the hundreds of lectures and walkabouts lead by local history enthusiasts organized by Chinook Country Historical Society. Learn all about Calgary’s boom/bust evolution from the Blackfoot nation’s summer meeting place, to the pioneer settlers, to becoming one of North America’s leading corporate headquarters cities.
Link: Historic Calgary Week
GlobalFest, August 16 to 25
GlobalFest burst (pun intended) onto the scene in 2003, a collaborative effort that combines an international fireworks competition with a multicultural night market. Held in Calgary’s Elliston Park with its man-made lake, just off International Avenue (aka 17th Ave SE) it celebrates Calgary’s multiculturalism. The American Bus Association ranked it in the Top 100 Events in North America.
Shaw Classic / Tour Champions, August 29th to September 2
Calgary is not only home to many world-class golf courses, but also to one of the premier PGA TOUR Champions events attracting one of the best international line-ups of the season. In 2017, the Shaw Classic had one of the largest audiences of any TOUR Champions event and set a TOUR Champions fundraising record of $8.3 million for local charities. It is a great opportunity to watch some of the greatest golfers of our time – Fred Couples loves this tournament!
Link: Shaw Classic
Honens Piano Competition, August 30 to September 8
If you love classical music and the piano, don’t miss the Honens International Piano Competition. The quarterfinals are in Berlin and New York this spring, but the semifinals and finals are in Calgary. The winner gets $100,000 in cash and an artist development program valued at half a millions dollars – the largest of its kind.
Link: Honens Piano Competition
Beakerhead, Sept 19 to 23
Beakerhead, perhaps one of the most unique festivals in the world, is a wonderfully bizarre combination of science, engineering and the arts. It encompasses 60+ events, installations and shows throughout the City Centre over five days and attracts over 125,000 participants. Bring the entire family - including grandma and grandpa.
Calgary International Film Festival, (2018 dates needed)
For the past 17 years, Calgary has hosted “the best little film festival on the prairies.” 0ver 200 films in multiple genres are screened over 12 days attracting 40,000 cineophiles. The Calgary Film Festival is recognized as one of the top “short film” festivals in the world.
Wordfest, Oct 9 to 14
Over the past 22 years, Wordfest has showcased over 900 writers conducting readings, workshops, and panel discussions. Last year, 70 events attracted 15,000 people of all ages including children. Its year-round literary program culminates with this October festival featuring international best-sellers, groundbreakers and up-and-coming authors.
Christmas In Calgary
ZOOLIGHTS, Nov 23 to Jan 5 2019
At Christmas, 1.5 million lights transform the Calgary Zoo into a winter wonderland. It takes about 90 minutes to fully experience the displays. In addition, there is a mix of indoor (crafts, pictures with Santa) and outdoor activities (skating, fire pits) for all ages.
Spruce Meadows Christmas Market
Nov 16–18, Nov 23–25, & Nov 30-Dec 2
The Spruce Meadows Christmas Market gives Calgarians a shopping experience filled with entertainment, delicious food, and unique gift buying opportunities. 300+ vendors spread Christmas Spirit in the indoor comfort of Spruce Meadows’ various buildings. Kids love Reindeer Alley, Candy Cane Lane and listening to various choirs, instrumental performances and magical dance displays amongst the 74 kilometres of Christmas lights strung around the grounds. (Seniors (65+) and Children (-12) admitted free.
Lions’ Festival of Lights, Dec 1 to Jan 7
Each year the Lions Clubs of Calgary create a free Festival of Lights in Confederation Park incorporating over 450,000 bulbs on 16,000 strings into various Holiday characters. The festival is unique as you can enjoy it many different ways – drive-by on 14th St NW, walk, snowshoe, cross-country ski or even toboggan down the hills amongst the display. Lights are on from 6 pm to midnight, 7 days a week.
In addition to these signature festivals, Calgary has numerous smaller festivals year round that serve niche groups, especially in film and music. For more information check out Tourism Calgary’s website: http://www.visitcalgary.com/things-to-do/festivals-events
Everyday Tourist Calgary Festival Blog Links: