My approach to winter used to involve staying indoors, hugging steaming mugs of tea and waiting for spring to unfurl its warming arms. Then, I attended Griz Days in snow-draped Fernie, B.C.
The friendly little Rocky Mountains ski town lures tuque-topped visitors in late February with its long weekend of parades, drinking, outdoor music, more drinking and – the highlight – the annual Griz contest, a kind of beauty pageant for beardies.
During the event, intrepid participants don furs and straggly facial hair in hopes of being crowned that year’s Griz – a mythical mountain character who, legend says, brings abundant snow to the town. What does the contest involve? Axe throwing, leg-wrestling and quite a lot of bleary-eyed drinking.
Just watching the contest – beer in hand – was the most fun I’ve had while wearing three pairs of socks at the same time. On my next visit, I might even participate.
But Fernie’s cold-season blowout isn’t the only party around. Canada is North America’s winter festival capital – and it’s frosted with hot-chocolate-quaffing merrymaking of all shapes and sizes.
If this is your first time, you might want to start with a biggie. From the end of January, the 17-day Quebec Winter Carnival (carnaval.qc.ca) in Quebec City is the grand-père of snow gatherings, offering everything from ice hotels to night parades.
It’s rivalled by Montreal, which hosts a series of well-chilled events. Consider mid-February’s gigantic Montréal en Lumière (montrealenlumiere.com) – culminating in the Nuit Blanche culture crawl around the city – or arrive earlier for January’s Fête des Neiges, a family-friendly frost fest in Parc Jean-Drapeau.
Family-friendly is the approach at many winter fests in Canada. Edmonton’s Ice on Whyte (iceonwhyte.ca) and Saskatoon’s WinterShines (potashcorpwintershines.ca) each add cool kid activities to their ice-carving showcases, while mountain-ringed Banff’s Ice Magic sculpting competition is now part of a month-long series of scenically chilled events called Snow Days.
Winnipeg’s hugely popular Festival du Voyageur (festivalvoyageur.mb.ca) in the Saint-Boniface district adds a toe-tapping Acadian edge, but it’s not the only event with a blood-warming live music roster.
Montreal’s Igloofest (igloofest.ca) is a three-day electronica party, while Prince George, B.C. delivers Coldsnap (coldsnapfestival.com), a showcase for local and visiting bands. They join Vancouver’s Winterruption (granvilleisland.com/winterruption) in hugging the cold season’s cultural side.
But for some, a medicinal beverage is only way to handle the chill hand of winter.
When I attended Ottawa’s ever-popular Winterlude (winterlude.gc.ca) last year, I discovered an outdoor Winterbrewed beer fest had been added to proceedings – think hot oatmeal stout. It joins B.C.’s Sun Peaks Winter Okanagan Wine Festival (thewinefestivals.com) and the Niagara Icewine Festival (niagarawinefestival.com) in Ontario in adding a warming glow to winter.
Those Maritime partiers also know how to keep the cold at bay. Fredericton’s huge Frostival (frostival.ca) lures many with its month-long roster of weekend events – from skating parties to culinary diversions – while New Brunswick’s more intimate Miramichi White Gold Festival runs from ice-dancing to cross-country skiing; it’s also your big chance to try ice-fishing.
If you were a fan of Charlottetown’s Jack Frost Children’s Winterfest – cancelled in 2013 – it’s rumoured to be back in 2014. Keep your browser trained on jackfrostfest.com for details.
My favourite winter parties are those community-focused events where rubbing fleece-clad shoulders with the locals is de rigueur. This February, I’m thinking of checking out the quirky Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous (yukonrendezvous.com) in Whitehorse as it celebrates its 50th birthday. Hair-freezing and beard-growing contests are anticipated.
OUR READERS WRITE
- January’s Inuvik Sunrise Festival in NWT – for the joy of the sun rising and celebrating with great music, feast and community. @tatebro
- Burning Away The Winter Blues in Whitehorse, Yukon. Great concept! And I imagine it’s rather cathartic after being snowed in for five months... @_rtc
- Rossland, B.C. has one that’s been going over a hundred years! See www.rosslandwintercarnival.com. @Blackcloudwine
- Ottawa’s Winterlude for sure. Who doesn’t want to skate on the Rideau? Also – no snow involved – but snagging a good table for lunch at Canoe in Toronto during Winterlicious is sweet! @travel_smith
- I really enjoyed last year’s Saskatoon Winter Meltdown Blues Festival. Amazing performers (Juno winners!) and great venues. @jennsmithnelson
- Frostbite Music Festival [in Whitehorse]. Three nights and two days of music under the Northern Lights @ehCanadaTravel
- Ice Magic in Lake Louise was always a favourite of mine. @LynnGervais
- Snow Days in Banff National Park. There’s a huge ice-climbing wall right in downtown Banff. @yaheweha
- Nova Scotia’s Icewine Festival. There’s a special magic in Nova Scotia in the winter. @AuthenticCoast
- Winterlude! Skate along Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, then have a freshly-baked, cinnamon-and-sugar-sprinkled beaver tail. @juliehijinks
- Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg would have to qualify – for the sled run on ice, the recreation of historic buildings and the cultural/historic connection to the city’s past. @Nat_Carnegie
- Gotta be Frostival in Fredericton. Largest winter celebration east of Quebec! @FredTourism
- Niagara Icewine Festival. @StanleyParkFan
- Winterlude in Ottawa. I love that it’s free. Especially like the ice sculptures, huge ice slides at Jacques Cartier Park, and the Beaver Tails! @OttawaMarriott
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