Corey Mintz and our team of hungry writers track down the best eats, drinks and ways to play at food festivals across Canada this summer. Graphics by Trish McAlaster
Montreal. At the foot of Montreal's Olympic stadium, guests can graze on tacos, perogies and corn dogs. A terrace provides ample seating. Free.
Vancouver. A hundred food stalls serving dishes from all over Asia – Vietnamese wings, Japanese raindrop cake – in addition to cotton candy and German pork hock with sauerkraut. Expect big crowds and long lines. $3.75, free for children under 10 and seniors over 60.
Feast Tofino, Tofino, B.C.
With just 1,800 year-round residents, the tiny town of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island isn't big enough to have traffic lights. Yet it's becoming known for its extraordinary food culture that draws inspiration from the ocean and old-growth forests of surrounding Clayoquot Sound.
Every spring, a strong community of chefs, growers, brewers, butchers, foragers and fishermen gets together to celebrate, with 2 1/2 weeks of demos, tastings, collaboration dinners and kitchen takeovers at Feast Tofino. Locals and visitors alike come here to fish, forage and cook on the beach. Canadian chefs like Lora Kirk, Nicole Gomes, Anita Lo showed up to last year's Feast, as did Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy in New York.
This year, Vancouver is sending chefs Lee Cooper from L'Abattoir, Stefan Hartmann from the Bauhaus, and Joel Watanabe from Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto. They'll be eating, teaching and collaborating on boat-to-table menus with Tofinian chefs including Lisa Ahier of SoBo, Nick Nutting of Wolf in the Fog, Warren Barr of the Pointe Restaurant in the Wickaninnish Inn and Ian Riddick of Long Beach Lodge.
The Boat to Tailgate Party is the family-friendly anchor event, raising money for local salmon research while offering an opportunity to catch your own food along with local chefs and fishing guides. The Dirty Gourmet invites guests to camp overnight at Mussel Beach in the Barkley Sound and combines adventure biking with a gourmet lunch in the backcountry. And on Victoria Day weekend, the party wraps up with the Tofino Dock Festival, an afternoon of tasting and hobnobbing in the inner harbour on Tofino's working 4th Street dock. $20 to $120. May 5 to 22. feasttofino.com – Julie van Rosendaal
Spot Prawn Festival, Vancouver. The day's celebrations, including a big boil and demos by chefs, kicks off spot prawn season. Bring cash to buy the sweet shellfish straight off the dock, which will be available for about six to eight weeks. $17.50 (includes snack of 3 spot prawns), all proceeds go to Chef's Table Society of British Columbia. Saturday, May 13. False Creek Fishermen's Wharf, 1505 West 1st Avenue. https://spotprawnfestival.com/
Great Okanagan Beer Festival, Kelowna, B.C. Showcasing about 40 Canadian brewers (focusing on B.C. craft beer makers), this three-day festival fills the afternoon with waterside concerts and hot dogs (vegetarian and gluten-free options available). Smoking (including vapesters) limited to designated areas. $45 (includes 3 beer tokens). May 11 to 13. Waterfront Park, 1200 Water St. https://gibbonswhistler.com/festivals-events/great-okanagan-beer-festival/
Carnival Cocktails for Cancer, Calgary. Join chefs and bartenders from 23 celebrated restaurants (including Model Milk, Pigeon Hole and Anejo) as they create old-timey carnival-themed food and cocktails to commemorate a member of their community and raise money for cancer research. Straw boater hats, handlebar mustaches and period costumes are not required, but encouraged. $150, proceeds go to Canadian Cancer Society. Sunday, May 28. Hotel Arts, 119 12th Ave. SW. http://www.carnivalcocktails.ca/
Mondial de la Bière, Montreal
One of the largest beer festivals in the world, the Mondial de la Bière expects 160,000 attendees over five days for its 24th celebration. In total, 586 products will be available to try, including 282 beers making a debut.
Montréal's beer festival is known for promoting Québécois products, but equally for internationalism. There are at least nine countries represented in brews, an international panel of judges for competitive events, and experts from all over participating in the educational lineup.
The festival weekend is the culmination of a city-wide Brewing Week starting June 12. A collection of restaurants will create beer-centric dishes as part of Sorties Flaveurs; for the Off Mondial program, 16 bars and artisanal breweries will host special releases – think small batch offerings and brewhouse collaborations.
Besides sipping, the festival offers live music, food exhibitors and a robust schedule of workshops plus small-group guided tours of breweries throughout the city. If last year is any indication, there will also be some last-minute surprises – think trivia nights and crowd-judged head-to-head cooking competitions.
For the first time, ticket packages will be available for the weekend: one attractive new offering is the one-day Privilege Lunch ticket, which gets you in 30 minutes before general admission, and also snags you a tote bag with gear, and food and drink credits.
Tastings $2 to $8; VIP packages $90 or $135. Privilege Lunch ticket $25. June 14 to 18. Palais des Congrès, 201 Viger Street West. http://festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca/en/festivals/mondial_de_la_biere_montreal_2017/ – Tara O'Brady
Kampai Toronto Festival of Sake, Toronto. Expand your sake palate with samples of 150 sakes from over 50 breweries. Plus there will be izakaya food, torched sushi and dishes from restaurants like Miku and Zakkushi. $30 to $110. June 1. The Fermenting Cellar, 28 Distillery Lane. http://www.sakeinstituteofontario.com/events/kampai-toronto/
Taste of the Caribbean, Montreal. Jerk chicken and rum from Barbados and Grenada, steel drum music and calypso singers, a costumed parade, all outside in the June sun. Admission is free, rum and food packages $30 to $90. June 21 to 25. Old Port of Montreal, 333 Rue de la Commune. http://totc.ca/fr/accueil
Porkapalooza BBQ Festival, Edmonton. A weekend of barbecue, with a chicken, ribs and brisket competition certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society. Free. June 10 and 11. Northlands Expo Centre, 7515 118 Ave. NW. http://porkapalooza.ca/
Pig and Pinot, Calgary. A luxurious celebration of Alberta pork and wine, with proceeds going to Meals on Wheels. $130. June 15. Hotel Arts, 119 12 Ave SW. https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/7th-annual-pig-pinot-festival-tickets-32003574553?aff=erelexpmlt
YVR Food Fest, Vancouver. Four days of programming over the Canada Day weekend, including a speaking series, Monday brunch, Canada Day Cookout, and a Street Food Showdown featuring over 80 food carts, restaurants, breweries and wineries. And yes, there will be a bike valet. June 29 to July 3. Olympic Village, 215 West 1st Ave. $10 to $60, free for children under 12. http://www.yvrfoodfest.com/
Halal Food Fest, Mississaga, Ont.
A lot of food festivals don't survive early success. The first Halal Food Festival in 2013 was expected to draw 5,000 guests and 30,000 people showed up. Not surprising, given that the Muslim population in the Toronto area is about half a million. But that kind of overwhelming turnout can create a long-lined, food-shortage experience that turns people off. The good news is, organizers have solved a lot of those early problems.
"We've made a lot of adjustments over the five years to grow," says organizer Salima Jivraj. "The flow is very important." Families form the core audience for the event, and she's figured out how to customize the space for them, with details like 20-feet-wide aisles (the standard is 10) a nursing area and lots of seating. "We've increased our kids area by 50 per cent this year, double what it was last year."
As it's grown, the festival has expanded beyond a homogeneously Muslim audience. Sponsorship comes from big brands like Redpath Sugar (the company avoids the common use of bone char in its refining process). All food is halal, of course, with signage clearly identifying which meats are hand- or machine-slaughtered.
In addition to corporations like Maple Leaf, which caters to the growth market with their Mina Halal imprint, expect a slew of Toronto food businesses – Daddy's Halal Ribs, the Holy Grill and Bombay Street Food – testing out new food ideas on the audience, as well as gluten-free baking demos, mocktail demos and a cake decorating contest. $5, free for children under 10 and adults over 64. July 15 and 16. The International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. http://halalfoodfestto.com/ – Corey Mintz
Outstanding in the Field, Salt Spring Island, B.C. For the B.C. edition of this rural fine-dining series (they host on beaches, mountains, in caves) this 24-acre organic farm will host a luxurious meal by Phil Scarfone of Vancouver's Nightingale. $286.86 (wine pairings included). July 16. Bullock Lake Farm, 360 Upper Ganges Rd. http://www.outstandinginthefield.com/event/8e61514d2628960130e93390d9289e13
North On Tap Craft Beer Festival, Haileybury, Ont. Craft breweries including Timmins' Full Beard Brewing, Sudbury's Stack Brewery and more are teaming up for the launch of this festival on the shore of Lake Timiskaming. The event, which draws Quebec visitors from across the water, will support three local food banks. $15. July 15. Harbour Place, 451 Farr Drive. https://www.northontap.ca/
Shediac Lobster Festival, Shediac, N.B.. An annual tradition since 1949, boasting a 1,000-foot-long table, a lobster-eating contest and an attempt to break the world record for longest lobster roll. Free. July 5 to 9. 58 Rue Festival. http://www.shediaclobsterfestival.ca/index.php/en/
Taste of Victoria, Victoria. A weekend of B.C. wine tastings, seminars with chefs and winemakers, culminating in a Pacific Coast seafood boil. $69 to $89. July 14 to 17. Various locations. http://www.victoriataste.com/
Calgary Stampede, Calgary. A national event that includes bucking broncos, midway rides, pancake breakfasts, barrel racing, steer wrestling, dog diving, a parade and crazy carnival food (teriyaki chicken perogies, Oreo churros, deep-fried coffee). Concerts this year feature Johnny Reid, Alabama and Usher with the Roots. $18, $9 for children/seniors. Packages from $16 to $299. July 7 to 16. Stampede Midway, 1410 Olympic Way SE. http://www.calgarystampede.com/
The Gathering, Burlington, Nfld.
A tiny town in northern Newfoundland comes alive for a weekend every summer to celebrate "Fire, Food and Music" at this five-year-old festival. The party began as a small celebration of the first vegetable harvest from a community greenhouse and has grown into an outdoor get-together of chefs and performers from all over Eastern Canada.
Musicians play from morning to midnight, gourmet meals and cookouts are all prepared outdoors, over open fire, and the mood is laid-back. Burlington is the hometown of comedian and festival founder Shaun Majumder, and naturally the comedy show is a big draw. "We want to share the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador in our little way," says executive director Rudy Norman.
The majority of the events happen on what Norman calls "the gathering grounds," packed with stages, chefs, food stands, bonfires, and amenities. A weekend pass grants access to set up a tent and relax in a vast nearby field.
Perennially popular (and ticketed separately from weekend passes) is the "brook picnic," an outdoor afternoon feast, prepared this year by chef Jeremy Charles of Raymonds. This year's musical lineup includes Joel and Bill Plaskett, and Repartee.
Unlike at many other food or music festivals, no alcohol is sold or served at the Gathering. People are encouraged to come and experience the tastes, sights and sounds "completely lucid, and walk away feeling good about it," says Norman (though having a drink on the campgrounds is permitted). $25 to $225. Aug. 24 to 26. Old Church Rd. https://thegatheringburlington.com/ – Jessica Emin
Session Muskoka, Bracebridge, Ont. Outdoor concerts buoyed by Ontario craft beers, ice cream, pizza, vegan and gluten-free options, plus beer athletics, which test drinkers' mental, physical and verbal skills under the influence. $30 (includes 5 beer tokens). Aug. 5. Annie Williams Park. www.sessionmuskoka.ca/beer.html
Outstanding in the Field, Victoria-by-the-sea, P.E.I. Another outdoor dinner by the OITF team, this time by chef Emily Wells (the Mill), hosted in a potato field on Canada's favourite island. Aug. 26. $286.86 (includes drink pairings). Victoria Potato Farm. http://www.outstandinginthefield.com/
Jerkfest, Toronto. Jerkologists compete for the meanest jerk and domino players sit for the Drop-A-Six Domino Challenge, while kids enjoy face-painting, inflatable rides and rock climbing. Free. Aug. 11 to 13. Centennial Park, 256 Centennial Park Rd. http://www.jerkfestival.ca/
The Big Feastival, Oro Station, Ont. Weezer, OK Go, De La Soul and Splash 'N Boots score a weekend of camping while chefs like Vikram Vij and Dennis Prescott hold court. Everything is family-friendly, including child-portions of food and cooking classes for kids. $30 to $435. Aug. 18 to 20. Burl's Creek Event Grounds, 240 8 Line S. http://canada.thebigfeastival.com/
Niagara Peach Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Shades of Summer, a gourmet night picnic, is the gala of the festival. But there's plenty of peach pies, peach ice cream and salsa dancing to fill out your experience. Aug. 9 and 10. Free; Shades of Summer $240 for table of eight. Between Queen, Victoria and King streets. https://www.niagaraonthelake.com/summer/peach
Mile High Wine Fest, Silver Star Mountain, B.C. Sample B.C. wines and Canadian cheeses 5,280 feet above sea level, with lots more food options and a little bluegrass and country thrown in. $60. Aug. 13. Silver Star Mountain Resort, 23 Shortt St. http://www.thewinefestivals.com/mile-high-wine-music
Festibiere de Quebec, Quebec City. In addition to an extensive selection of Quebec beers and ciders, this festival features beer-based cooking demos – pulled pork in beer sauna, burgers stuffed with beer-injected tomatoes – and a wading pool to cool your feet. Free. Aug. 18 to 21. Old Port of Quebec Market, 160 Quai Saint-André, Ville de Québec. http://festibieredequebec.com/
Taber Cornfest, Taber, Alta. Kicking off with a parade on the 24th, the Cornfest is the quintessential regional agriculture festival, complete with chili cook-off, pancake breakfast, cornbread contest, monster trucks, old-timey cars, carnival rides and lots of corn bathed in butter. Free. Aug. 24 to 26. Various locations. http://www.destinationtaber.com/pages/Cornfest
Folklorama, Winnipeg. The largest multicultural folk festival in the world presents music, dance and food from over 40 cultures. Learn to write your name in Sanskrit or tie a turban while nibbling on schnitzel and samosas. $6 (children 12 and under free, accompanied by an adult). Aug. 6 to19. Various locations. https://www.folklorama.ca/
Wild Blueberry Harvest Festival, central Nova Scotia. As wild blueberries harvest begins, celebrations take place all over the province. Fill up at pancake breakfasts or pie-eating contests. Get one of Dick's Blueberry Grunts at Duncan's Pub or sip blueberry wine at Jost Vineyards. Aug.18 to Sept. 2. Various locations. http://wildblueberryfest.com/
Freak’n Farmer Adventure Obstacle Race, Oliver, B.C.
Diving into cold, murky water underneath thick wooden logs and carrying 20-pound pails full of dirt aren't what most people expect from a visit to a winery. But those are just a couple of the challenges to conquer at this wild annual event at Covert Farms, a winery and organic produce supplier with breathtakingly beautiful views of the South Okanagan.
At the height of summer, this family-run business is vibrant and lush, with rows upon rows of big, leafy vines boasting clusters of juicy grapes, fields of fresh strawberries, brassicas and lettuces. When late September rolls around and the fields have been mostly harvested, Hoodoo Adventures begins its work on the farm's grounds, bringing in huge utility vehicles to help construct all sorts of obstacles, from simple stacks of hay bails to crawl through to big, buoyant blocks floating in a manmade lake.
On race day, younger ones compete early on in the morning (kids can race on specialized tracks separated by age group). Later on, more serious racers can choose to tackle five, 10 or 20-kilometre tracks around the winery and farm grounds, rife with physical tasks like stacking wine barrels, flipping tractor wheels and even collecting 15-pound zucchinis.
It sounds daunting, but participants are encouraged to not take themselves too seriously and just have some fun. Less seasoned athletes will find the five or 10 kilometre tracks manageable, as there are plenty of moments to catch your breath while waiting in line to complete the more complex roadblocks you'll encounter. Costumes are encouraged, so you'll likely end up jogging by someone dressed up in a cow suit or similar style of hilarious onesie.
Once the hard part is done, everyone celebrates with plenty of delicious food, like charcuterie boards brimming with locally cured meats, braised pork, roast corn, Covert Farms' wine (of course) and craft cider courtesy of Howling Moon which operates just down the road. Up to $145. Sept. 23. Covert Farms Family Estate. https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/the-freakn-farmer-2017-tickets-27787073886?aff=efbevent – Dan Clapson
Roots, Rants and Roars, Elliston, Nfld. Celebrate the Atlantic's most prized resource at Friday night's cod wars, when local chefs battling for the titles of king and queen of cod. On Saturday, the festival orchestrates a 5-km trail for guests to hike, with food stations along the way: this is the best event for young children, as that night's feast is known to go well past midnight. $90 per event. Elliston Municipal Park on Maberly Rd. Sept. 15 and 16. https://www.rootsrantsandroars.ca/
Canada's Largest Ribfest, Burlington, Ont. There are many ways to establish this festival's status as Canada's largest celebration of ribs – attendance, ribs sold, teams competition, money raised for charity – but none better than its title. To maximize rib consumption, camping is available in nearby Bronte Creek Provincial Park. Free. Sept. 1 to 4. Spencer Smith Park, 1400 Lakeshore Rd. http://www.canadaslargestribfest.com/
Niagara Grape and Wine Festival, St. Catharines, Ont. Three weekends of celebration centre around the Ontario's grape region harvest. Montebello Park will host concerts, seminars, interactive cooking demos for children, samples from 30 local wine producers and a dozen food vendors. Food and drink tokens $3.50, Winery tour pass $40. Sept. 9 to 10, 15 to 17, 22 to 24. Montebello Park, 64 Ontario St. http://www.niagarawinefestival.com/wine-festival
The Chosen Food, Vancouver. One of a series of dinners hosted by The Jewish Museum & Archives of B.C. introducing diners to cuisines from international areas of Jewish diaspora. This edition combines Rosh Hashana (Hebrew new year) with a Syrian feast. $40. Sept. 17. 6184 Ash Street, Second Floor. https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/the-chosen-food-rosh-hashanah-in-aleppo-a-syrian-jewish-new-year-tickets-32699664577
The Halifax Oyster Festival, Halifax. There's no greater celebration of seasonal, local food than eating a fresh, raw, ungarnished oyster. The start of Nova Scotia's season commences with this shucking competition and all you can slurp oyster bonanza. $52.05 (children under 12 are free) for a three-hour session. Sept. 29 and 30. Halifax Waterfront, Salter Block parking lot. http://oysterfest.ca/