Reason #98 of '101 Reasons Why I Heart Edmonton'

The Other Festivals

By Emil Tiedemann

I would be remiss if, in a town rightfully recognized as “Festival City,” I didn’t mention all of those other exciting and enticing festivals that happen all year round here in Edmonton.

The 101 Reasons Why I Heart Edmonton book includes individual entries for the Fringe, Folk Fest, the Street Performers, Heritage Fest, and collectively the film festivals (‘The Cinema’), but there are so many others that deserve to be praised, and this list simply wouldn’t be complete without them. So, in alphabetical order, here they are from A to Zoofest...

ALL IS BRIGHT FESTIVAL (since 2013) 124th Street and High Street light up for one vibrant Saturday night in November, as All Is Bright celebrates the coming of the winter season by providing illumination, entertainment, food, fashion, and plenty of all-ages fun. It is hosted by the 124th Street Business Association.

ANIMETHON (since 1994) Japanese animation fanatics come out for three days in August to participate in anime screenings, musical and improvisation performances, gaming activities, costume contests, and meet-and-greets with some of the best voice actors in North America and from around the world. It is held at MacEwan University’s downtown campus.

ART WALK (since 1995) Hundreds of visual artists show off four kms of their paintings, drawings, photographs, and graphic arts for three days each July, taking over the sidewalks and alleyways of Whyte Avenue (101 to 108 Streets). Patrons are free to purchase original and wreproduced artwork from local artists during the outdoor gallery, or witness the artists at work right there in the streets of Old Strathcona. 

BACONFEST YEG (since 2014) Who doesn’t love the smell and taste of bacon?! Bacon- themed food, cocktails, music, comedy, prizes, and chatter entice audiences at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium for just one day in June. Vegans and vegetarians are welcome, too!
BEAUMONT BLUES & ROOTS FESTIVAL (since 2008) Located just a few kms south of Edmonton, the small town of Beaumont fills up with the sounds of Canadian blues, roots, folk, country, and rockabilly music for two days in June at the Four Seasons Park.

BIKEOLOGY FESTIVAL (since 2010) This month-long festival takes over June (which happens to be Bike Month) each year to foster good will and provide understanding and knowledge of what can be done with bicycles via bike-related activities and events.

BONNIE FEST (since 2010) Initiated by residents of the Bonnie Doon area in south Edmonton, Bonnie Fest is “a way to create a bumping place where people and organizations could meet and connect with one another.” This bilingual festival is just one day each June.

CANADIAN BIRKEBEINER SKI FESTIVAL (since 1985) Canada’s premier classic ski festival attracts some 2,000 skiers from all over the globe, who travel to Edmonton to compete in various events. The activities happen over two days in February, east of Edmonton at the Cooking Lake/ Blackfoot Recreation area, Elk Island Park, and the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village.

CARIWEST FESTIVAL (since 1984) It was born out of a communal celebration of Caribbean culture during K-Days in the mid-’80s, and has grown into its own three-day extravaganza that attracts 60,000 locals each August. The free event shines a spotlight on the sounds of steel pan & reggae, soca & calypso, hip-hop & brass bands, kicked off by a downtown parade.

Cariwest Festival.

CREATIVE AGE FESTIVAL (since 2008) This celebration of creative aging encourages local seniors to become more involved in various arts programs, including music, drama, visual & literary arts, and dance. It’s held over three days in June at various locales.

DEEP FREEZE: A BYZANTINE WINTER FESTIVAL (since 2008) During this two-day January festival, locals embrace our winter climate by partaking in “artistic panache and authentic cultural and heritage winter games and fun.” The event also serves to exploit the revitalization of 118th Avenue.

EDMONTON BEERFEST (since 2010) For just two days in September, Edmontonians bask in the flavours and aromas of hundreds of local, national, and international brews at the Shaw Conference Centre, to the sounds of live entertainment.

EDMONTON BLUES FESTIVAL (since 1999) For three days in August, the Blues Festival brings musicians from all over North America to perform at Hawrelak Park’s Heritage Amphitheatre. Founded by former CKUA broadcaster Cam Hayden, the festival was the first in Canada to receive a “Keeping the Blues Alive” award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.

EDMONTON BURLESQUE FESTIVAL (since 2013) For three days in September, this not-for-profit extravaganza celebrates all things burlesque, vaudeville, and “fabulous,” aimed at local, national, and international theatre and arts community. Some of the festival’s highlights include the Burlesque Bunny Competition and the Golden Beaver Award.

EDMONTON COMEDY FESTIVAL (since 2011) Dozens of funny men and women from across North America come out to tell us jokes during the four-day Edmonton Comedy Festival, held at various locations in October. The festival was organized by local stand-up comic and 630 CHED radio host Andrew Grose.

EDMONTON CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL (since 2013) Take in a beer seminar, listen to the live entertainment, vote for the People’s Choice awards, and sample delicious food and more than 400 different types of craft beer on site at this two-day festival in June at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

EDMONTON DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL (since 1996) Edmonton paddlers embark on Louise McKinney Riverfront Park to “rip up the river” during this three-day dragon boat festival. Participating teams race along the North Saskatchewan every August, right in the great outdoors of Edmonton’s stunning river valley.

Edmonton Dragon Boat Festival.

EDMONTON INTERNATIONAL CAT FESTIVAL (since 2014) It’s the only festival of its kind in the whole country, bringing together feline fans to celebrate cats and cat culture for just one Saturday in May. It includes cat-themed presentations, photo and video contests, vendors, crafts, adoptable cats and show cats, and even a meet-and-greet with “celebrity cats.” It was created by local blogger Linda Hoang.

EDMONTON CLOWN FESTIVAL (since 2016) “From red-nose clowns to Bouffons to physical-based comedy,” this new and exciting theatre festival is dedicated to all styles of clowns. The inaugural Edmonton Clown Fest was a four-day event held in September/ October at the beautiful L’UniTh√©√Ętre at La Cite Francophone, in Edmonton’s “French Quarter.”

EDMONTON INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL (since 2005) Operated by the nonprofit Edmonton Jazz Society, the 10-day Jazz Festival features hundreds of jazz, bebop, swing, contemporary, R&B, funk, and Afro-Cuban musicians from around the world every June, performing at dozens of events and various venues, namely the Yardbird Suite in Old Strathcona.

EDMONTON LATIN FESTIVAL (since 2010) Churchill Square goes Latin for two days in August for the annual Edmonton Latin Festival. International music and dance performers, food and drink pavilions, a market place and beer garden, and even a kids booth make up this Latin carnival!

EDMONTON PEACE FESTIVAL (since 2015) This “by the people, for the people” festival hopes to contribute to the creation of a culture of peace in the city of Edmonton, encouraging locals to develop ideas and actions for making our city a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone. The 12-day event takes place in late September.

EDMONTON POETRY FESTIVAL (since 2006) The Edmonton Poetry Festival celebrates poetry in all its forms, engaging with acclaimed poets from around the world and right here in our own backyard for eight days in April. Readings are held in various locations throughout the city, from cafes and book stores to the Devonian Botanic Garden.

EDMONTON PRIDE FESTIVAL (since 1980) One of the oldest pride festivals in Canada, Edmonton Pride is a 10-day celebration kicked off with a parade down Whyte. Live music, a beer garden, vendors, family activities, LGBTQ+ films, and dance parties help round out the summer experience every June for some 40,000 locals and visitors.

Edmonton Pride Festival.

EDMONTON ROCK MUSIC FESTIVAL (since 2011) Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of rock music, the Rock and Roll Society of Edmonton hosts this two-day festival over at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park each August. They also help raise funds for the Centre for Arts & Music’s after-school musical education program for Edmonton’s inner city youth.

EEK! FEST (since 2014) There are various unique pop-culture events every May for two days at St. Albert’s Servus Place, including a life-size Angry Birds game, Lightsaber demos, a zombie shooting range, live painting performances, and dedicated areas for board games and video games!

FEATS FESTIVAL OF DANCE (since 2000) The Alberta Dance Alliance hosts this multi-disciplinary dance festival for 16 days from June-July. Everything from traditional folk and contemporary works to experimental and edgy movement performances are what Feats is all about.

FESTIVAL OF FAITHS (since 2015) Formed by a group of youth from the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, this two-day event takes part in September, featuring faith group exhibits, panel discussions, performances, and film showcases. Their mission is to celebrate the gathering of groups and individuals of different faiths and beliefs. 

FESTIVAL OF LIGHT (since 2013) The Edmonton Valley Zoo looks to light up the skies and our spirits for ten days in December during the Festival of Light, which offers an exhibition of artistic light installations. The event also includes outdoor entertainment, skating, crafts, a maze and igloo, and of course, free hot chocolate.

FOUND FESTIVAL (since 2009) Edmonton’s only site-specific arts festival, Found is a unique annual event hosted by the Common Ground Arts Society in June. The four-day festival showcases live theatre, dance, music, visual art, and creative writing in unconventional locations throughout the city, everywhere from a grocery store and a parked car to the High Level Bridge.

FREEWILL SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL (since 1989) Produced by the “Free Will Players” every summer (June-July), the former River City Shakespeare Festival has actors performing two of William Shakespeare’s iconic plays (one tragedy and one comedy) for sold-out crowds at the open-air Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. The festival lasts for nearly a full month.

Freewill Shakespeare Festival.
HEART OF THE CITY MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL (since 2003) The result of a series of open stages at the Bissell Centre, Heart of the City is a two-day (June) family-friendly festival promoting local and emerging artists at Giovanni Caboto Park in McCauley.

HIGHLANDIA FESTIVAL (since 2013) The historic Highlands neighbourhood, at Henry Martell Park, puts on its very own unique music festival for one day in June, featuring an array of musical genres, craft vendors, family-friendly activities, and an evening dance party!

ICE ON WHYTE (since 2004) One of the most popular winter events in Edmonton is the Ice on Whyte ice carving festival in Old Strathcona. The event kicks off the ATCO Gas International Ice Carving Competition, showcasing intense ice sculptures from international artists for two weekends every January. The fest also includes live entertainment, crafts, food & drinks, and a giant ice slide for the kids! It also inspired our Sand on Whyte Festival.

IGNITE EDMONTON FESTIVAL (since 2015) Initiated by Edmonton Economic Development, Ignite serves to welcome entrepreneurs, leaders, creative minds, and change-makers who are open to trying new things! The two-day festival happens in September and includes presentations, masterclasses, breakout sessions, labs, and more.

IMPROVAGANZA (since 2001) Edmonton’s iconic Rapid Fire Theatre hosts the wittiest improvisers from across the continent (& beyond) for 11 days each June at the Citadel Theatre in downtown Edmonton. The extravaganza also includes Theatresports matches, specialty shows, public workshops, and various other social events.

INTERNATIONAL CHILDREN’S FESTIVAL (since 1982) Kids are the focus audience for this family-friendly five-day festival in downtown St. Albert, just outside of Northwest Edmonton. Every May, all ages are welcome to come out and enjoy interactive performances and demonstrations, sing-a-longs, crafts and workshops, live music, face painting, and many other unique activities.

INTERSTELLAR RODEO (since 2012) Some of the best in alternative music come out to perform at the outdoors stage in Hawrelak Park for this three-day concert every July. Some of the biggest performers to take to the Rodeo have included Randy Newman, Steve Earle, Blue Rodeo, and the Sam Roberts Band.

KALEIDO FAMILY ARTS FESTIVAL (since 2006) Kaleido is all about being with family, having a good time, and celebrating the revival of Alberta Avenue (118th), providing residents and visitors with free theatre, music, and dance performances, art and literary showcases, crafts and so much more! It takes over the Avenue for three days every September, produced by Arts on the Ave.

KIWANIS MUSIC FESTIVAL (since 1908) Canada’s longest-running music festival, Kiwanis offers some 2,500 performances by musicians (& actors) of piano, strings, woodwinds, brass, classical guitar, voice, speech, and chamber groups. Former alumni includes Robert Goulet, Jens Linderman, and Angela Cheng.

LITFEST (since 2002) A successor of the Alberta Book Fair trade show, LitFest has evolved into an 11-day nonfiction event made up of a series of “chic gatherings & gourmet experiences” in October. Canada’s only nonfiction fest serves to support local literary talent, and showcase books, magazines, and films.

MID-AUTUMN LANTERN FESTIVAL (since 2014) Chinatown comes to Churchill Square in September for a free day of Chinese-oriented music and dance performances, storytelling, lantern making, food trucks and vendors, a parade, and even a wish boat launching.

Mid-Autumn Lantern Festival.

NEXTFEST (since 1996) Nextfest is sort of known as a mini alt Fringe festival that - over 11 days in June - showcases more than 700 artists in dozens of venues across the city for nearly 100 different events, including live theatre, music, dance, film, and visual arts shows.

NUOVA OPERA & MUSIC THEATRE FESTIVAL (since 2004) NUOVA is the largest opera and vocal music festival in the country, celebrating and promoting the best operatic vocalists and collaborative pianists around. It’s one of the longest Edmonton festivals, running 44 days from May-July. The nonprofit NUOVA organization was founded in 1998.

OLIVER COMMUNITY FESTIVAL (since 2013) The vibrant Oliver community in central Edmonton offers live entertainment, breakfast and a BBQ lunch, vendors, a bake & book sale, kids activities, and a historical church tour for a single day in May or June.

PORKAPALOOZA (since 2014) This three-day haven for BBQ’ers is essentially one big competition for the best in BBQ’ing! Held during June in the northside Borden Park, Porkapalooza also provides food trucks and vendors, a beer garden, and non-stop live entertainment.

RAINMAKER RODEO (since 1967) For three days in May, St. Albert plays host to the Rainmaker Rodeo, highlighted by live music performances, marketplace vendors, a Midway and family circus, and of course the main event, the rodeo! 

ROCK’N AUGUST (since 1997) Classic car enthusiasts from across the country and even the U.S. come out to St. Albert every August for five days to take in fast cars, live music, and savoury BBQ, all to help raise funds for diabetes research and education.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL (since 2002) Vino lovers come out in droves for this two-day November party at the Shaw Conference Centre in downtown Edmonton. More than just world class wine, the festival also provides live entertainment, international beers and spirits, big prizes, and savoury foods.

RUBABOO ARTS FESTIVAL (since 2010) Rubaboo is a two-week multi-disciplinary festival “committed to redressing the erasure of culture and moving us in understanding and inclusion.” Since 2010, the festival showcases Aboriginal theatre, music, dance, art, and food, and includes family events and artist workshops.

RUST MAGIC STREET MURAL FESTIVAL (since 2016) Artists Annaliza Toledo and Trevor Peters organized this 4-day festival from a desire to add colour - other than advertising - to the streets of Edmonton. In September more than a dozen permanent murals go up in the central and Old Strathcona regions.

SAND ON WHYTE (since 2013) Inspired by the Ice on Whyte celebration that has become a wintertime favourite, Sand on Whyte takes over a small portion of the Avenue for 10 days in July. Award-winning artists carve masterpieces out of 20 cubic yards of sand in the heart of Old Strathcona, just off of Gateway Boulevard.

Sand on Whyte.
SEVEN MUSIC FESTIVAL (since 2015) Alternative rock music takes over at this brand new concert festival held at St. Albert’s Mission Park (Seven Hills) for one Saturday in July. Some of the acts who played the inaugural event included the Sam Roberts Band, Scenic Route to Alaska, and Tupelo Honey.

SILVER SKATE FESTIVAL (since 1991) Edmonton’s scenic river valley becomes the backdrop for this family-oriented festival that is rooted in old Dutch winter traditions. The 10-day event combines sport (namely skating) with arts, culture, and recreation for over 80,000 people during February.

SKIRTSAFIRE FESTIVAL (since 2013) Edmonton’s only multidisciplinary arts festival celebrating the work of women happens every March along Alberta Ave. For four days, people celebrate women in theatre, music, dance, visual art, comedy, and spoken word through performances, exhibitions, and workshops.

SONIC BOOM (since 2009) Edmonton’s Alternative Music Festival is a giant two-day outdoor rock and pop concert held at Borden Park (formerly at Northlands) in September. Some of the bigger names who have performed at Sonic Boom include Jack White, blink-182, Weezer, Ellie Goulding, The Lumineers, Bad Religion, Metric, Hozier, twenty one pilots, Rise Against, Jane’s Addiction, Cake, Cee Lo Green, and City and Colour. (CANCELLED in 2017)

(since 2008) Renowned international and local chamber vocalists, musicians, and orchestras emerge in Edmonton for four days each June for this concert festival that is organized by the Edmonton Chamber Music Society.

SYMPHONY UNDER THE SKY (since 1996) The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra puts on a mesmerizing concert for four nights each August for this one of a kind festival, performing everything from Mozart to pop standards at the Heritage Amphitheatre in Hawrelak Park. The open-air festival sees more than 40,000 Edmontonians come out every single year.

TALES STORYTELLING FESTIVAL (since 1989) This four-day event is one of the few “true grassroots and unique storytelling” festivals left in North America, held each May in Old Founded by The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling (TALES), this festival features story slams, storytelling workshops, stage performances, and school programming.

TASTE OF EDMONTON (since 1984) It’s been a long-standing tradition for Taste of Edmonton to run simultaneously alongside K-Days, offering up an array of foods from local restaurants and food trucks for ten days at Churchill Square. Western Canada’s largest food tasting festival serves about half a million people each July. The festival, which also features daily live music, is a huge supporter of the Edmonton Food Bank.

UP + DOWNTOWN MUSIC FESTIVAL (since 2013) More than a dozen venues across downtown Edmonton play host to upwards of 100 different performers to celebrate independent music and arts. UP + DT runs for three days in early October, and also includes the unique Craft Beer Tour.

WHAT THE TRUCK?! (since 2011) Following a trip to San Francisco, #yeg bloggers Mack Male and Sharon Yeo introduced Edmonton’s first festival celebrating food truck culture! The event showcases Edmonton’s best food truck chefs, as well as an impressive line-up of music performances multiple times during the summer in various locations, including Churchill Square, Northlands, and TELUS Field.

WILDFIRE FESTIVAL (since 2006) Like Improvaganza, the WildFire Festival is all about improv, and also happens to be hosted by the same Rapid Fire Theatre comedy group. It focuses on junior high and high school students from across Alberta (& the Territories), who come together for about three weeks every February at the Citadel Theatre.

THE WORKS ART & DESIGN FESTIVAL (since 1986) North America’s largest free outdoor art & design festival, The Works is made up of over 60 exhibits in more than 30 venues in the downtown core. Over the 13 days in June-July, the festival - produced by The Works International Visual Arts Society - also includes live entertainment and over 200 special events.

The Works Art & Design Festival.

ZOOFEST (since 1999) For just one fun-filled night in June, visitors get to see what happens at the Edmonton Valley Zoo after the gates close! The kids get to hang out in the Kid’s Zone, while the parents sit back and enjoy some fine wine and local cuisine. Zoofest also includes zoo tours, live auctions, and a painting demonstration by Lucy the Elephant.


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