Festivals and Events
- Best of Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Island: High Tea to Low Tide
- Vancouver’s Totem Poles
- Vancouver’s Best Hiking
- Family Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
- Focus on Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Weekend Getaway
- Victoria Weekend Getaway
- A Tour Through Time
- Inside Passage Cruises
- Outdoor Adventures
- Winter Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
Festivals of some description take place in Vancouver just about every month of the year. Whether it’s a celebration of local or international culture, the arts, sporting events, or just a wacky long-time tradition, there’s always a reason to party in Vancouver.
Many of the most popular festivals are held during summer, the peak visitor season, but the rest of the year is the main season for performances by the city’s dance, theater, and music companies, and not-to-be-missed events such as the Christmas Carol Ship Parade.
For details and exact dates of the events listed below, contact the numbers or visit the websites given, or visit any local tourist information center.
Tickets for most major events can be booked through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.ca).
The spring event schedule kicks off in a big way the third week of March with the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (604/872-6622, www.playhousewinefest.com). Hosted by various downtown venues, it is one of North America’s largest wine festivals, bringing together representatives from more than 150 wineries and 14 countries. Other public events include a variety of nighttime gatherings, such as Bacchanalia, a gala dinner hosted by the Fairmont Vancouver.
The Vancouver Sun Run (604/689-9441, www.sunrun.com) is a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) run (or walk) through the streets of downtown on the third Sunday in April. Attracting more than 45,000 participants, it is Canada’s largest (and the world’s third largest) such run. For more serious runners, the Vancouver International Marathon (604/872-2928, www.bmovanmarathon.ca) takes place two Sundays later.
Two of summer’s most popular cultural events take place from mid-June through late in the season, meaning you can enjoy them at any time through the warmer months. Bard on the Beach (604/737-0625, www.bardonthebeach.org, June–Sept.) comprises three favorite Shakespeare plays performed in open-ended tents in Vanier Park, allowing a spectacular backdrop of English Bay, the city skyline, and the mountains beyond. Tickets are well priced at just $24–32 for 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. matinees and from $34 for 7:30 p.m. evening performances.
The other event, the Kitsilano Showboat (604/734-7332, www.kitsilanoshowboat.com), takes place at nearby Kitsilano Beach. Amateur variety acts have been taking to this stage since 1935. Performances are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. over a 10-week summer season.
The Dragon Boat Festival (604/688-2382, www.dragonboatbc.com) comes to False Creek on the middle weekend in June. In addition to the races, a blessing ceremony and a variety of cultural activities take place in and around the Plaza of Nations.
Late June through early July, Vancouver taps its feet to the beat of the annual Vancouver International Jazz Festival (604/872-5200, www.coastaljazz.ca), when more than 1,500 musicians from countries around the world gather to perform traditional and contemporary jazz at 40 venues around the city.
The middle weekend of July, Jericho Beach Park draws lots of folks to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival (604/602-9798, www.thefestival.bc.ca). In addition to the wonderful music, the festival features storytelling, dance performances, live theater, and a food fair.
Year after year, Vancouverites await with much anticipation the early August Celebration of Light (604/642-6835, www.celebration-of-light.com), the world’s largest musical fireworks competition. Each year, three countries compete; each has a night to itself (the last Saturday in July, then the following Wednesday and Saturday), putting on a display that lasts up to an hour from 10:15 p.m.; then on the final night (second Wednesday in August), the three competing countries come together for a grand finale.
The fireworks are let off from a barge moored in English Bay, allowing viewing from Stanley Park, Kitsilano Beach, Jericho Beach, and as far away as West Vancouver. Music that accompanies the displays can be heard around the shoreline; if you’re away from the action, tune your radio to 101.1 FM for a simulcast.
Summer’s busy event schedule winds up at the Pacific National Exhibition Grounds with The Fair (Pacific National Exhibition) (604/253-2311, www.pne.bc.ca) in late August. A highlight of this agricultural exposition is the twice-daily RCMP musical ride, a precision drill performed by Canada’s famous Mounties.
Beginning the second week of September, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival (604/257-0350, www.vancouverfringe.com) schedules around 500 performances by 100 artists from around the world at indoor and outdoor stages throughout Granville Island.
The Vancouver International Film Festival (604/685-0260, www.viff.org) is held late in early October and features more than 300 of the very best movies from around 60 countries at theaters across downtown. In the middle of October, literary types congregate on Granville Island for the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival (604/681-6330, www.writersfest.bc.ca).
Through the month of December, VanDusen Botanical Garden is transformed each evening by more than 80,000 lights and seasonal displays such as a nativity scene during the Festival of Lights (604/878-9274).
Another popular pre-Christmas event is the Carol Ships Parade of Lights (604/878-8999, www.carolships.org). For three weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, the waterways of Vancouver come alive with the sounds of the festive season as each night a flotilla of up to 80 boats, each decorated with colorful lights, sails around Burrard Inlet, Port Moody, Deep Cove, and around English Bay to False Creek, while onboard carolers sing the songs of Christmas through sound systems that can clearly be heard along the shoreline.
While most normal folk spend New Year’s Day recovering from the previous night’s celebrations, up to 2,000 brave souls head down to English Bay Beach and go swimming. The information hotline for the Polar Bear Swim is 604/732-2304, but all you really need to know is that the water will be very cold. The insanity starts at 2:30 p.m.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition