It’s time to embrace those knits, scarves, and gloves! Winter is quickly approaching and although many of us are tempted to flee to warmer places, there’s a plethora of Canadian winter events to help brighten up even the darkest of winter days. 

From Ottawa to Yellowknife, we’ve rounded up four annual festivals across Canada that will surely help alleviate some of the winter blues. Let’s get started!

Winterlude Snow Festivals in Ottawa
Image via Ross Dunn on FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0

1. Winterlude—Ottawa, Ontario

Picture it: you’ve just skated the world’s largest natural ice rink. You’re now snacking on a warm Beavertail and sipping on decadent hot chocolate while admiring ice sculptures. The stunning architecture of the Chateau Laurier and Peace Tower form the perfect backdrop among twinkling lights on the trees and buildings. 

Sounds magical, right? This is what you can expect and more at Ottawa’s annual Winterlude festival, which takes place during the first three weeks of February. Since 1979, the free event has brought thousands of people to Canada’s National Capital Region for a variety of indoor and outdoor fun. You can expect: 

  • skating, ice sculptures, art exhibits, and snow activities for the whole family; 
  • live music performances;
  • silent discos; 
  • culinary events, including Indigenous cuisine; and
  • special events across the city’s landmarks, museums, and restaurants.

The 45th edition of Winterlude will take place from Feb. 3 to Feb. 20, 2023, so start making your plans now to make sure you can fit in as many activities and as much sightseeing as possible! Ottawa is home to many Canadian landmarks you won’t want to miss, such as Parliament Hill, Royal Canadian Mint, the War Memorial, Rideau Hall, National Art Gallery, National Arts Centre, the Museum of History, and more. Stroll along historic Sparks Street, relax at Le Nordik Spa in nearby Chelsea, Quebec, and dine at some of Canada’s top restaurants. 

Check out the Government of Canada’s official Winterlude page for updates on the upcoming festival.

Winterlude Festival in OttawaImage via Mack Male on Flickr, ​​CC BY-SA 2.0

2. Jasper in January—Jasper, Alberta

While many people are drawn to Jasper National Park during warmer months thanks to its glacier-fed waters and its majestic Canadian Rockies backdrop, Jasper, Alberta, is just as impressive in the winter. 

Jasper in January, which typically runs for two weeks in mid-January, has been a mainstay for more than 30 years. This festival exemplifies the vibrancy, comfort, and laid-back vibe the town is known for. 

Jasper in January has a full calendar of events intended to give visitors the opportunity to take part in quintessential mountain activities. Festival goers can partake in:

  • canyon walks;
  • winter sports;
  • skating parties;
  • dog sledding and sleigh rides; 
  • wildlife tours;
  • the Jasper Cup Pond Hockey Tournament;
  • charity polar bear dip;
  • the famous chili cook-off;
  • cinema nights;
  • outdoor concert series; and
  • wellness retreats.

The daily events end with street parties and dazzling fireworks displays that usually start after 9 p.m. 

There’s still plenty to do in Jasper if you’d rather stay warm indoors. Check out the variety of spa and wellness services for some relaxation and rejuvenation. The Jasper Planetarium has interactive experiences that will have you gazing at the night sky in wonder. The town also has many art galleries and museums where you can learn more about its history and culture.

Winter Festival in JasperImage via billbradenphoto/Snowking’s Winter Festival Society

4. Snowking’s Winter Festival—Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Of course, Canada has a snow king and there couldn’t be a place more appropriate for him to call home than the Northwest Territories. Every March since 1995, Snowking’s Winter Festival has been drawing large crowds to Yellowknife Bay for a month of festivities centred around one main attraction: an ice and snow castle. The elaborate snowcastle (which you can tour virtually here) typically takes two months to build. 

The festival’s mission is to inspire “art, community, volunteerism, creativity, and active winter play.” Festival goers are treated to: 

  • performances; 
  • ice carving competitions; 
  • art installations;
  • photo exhibits; 
  • dance parties;
  • ice hockey tournaments; and 
  • a royal gala.

The next edition of the festival will take place March 1 to March 26, 2023. Tickets for evening events range from $15 to $20. Stay updated by checking the  Snowking website.

Snowking Winter FestivalImage via billbradenphoto/Snowking’s Winter Festival Society

March is an ideal time to be in Yellowknife for another reason: the Northern Lights! On most days, you can look up from wherever you are between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. to see the awe-inspiring light show. You can check the Aurora forecast beforehand or download an app to let you know the likelihood of seeing the lights on any given day. 

Yellowknife Snow FestivalsImage via Nicolas Lh. on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

4. Quebec Winter Carnival—Quebec City, Quebec

No list of snow festivals in Canada is complete without one of the oldest and largest winter carnivals in the world. The Quebec Winter Carnival or “Carnaval” sees the city turn into a massive playground filled with parades, musical performances, canoe races, ice sculptures, outdoor banquets, and architectural wonders. 

The festival traces its roots back to 1894 when Quebec’s former premier Joly de Lotbinière and a group of businessmen started the event to attract tourists and liven up the dark winters. The tradition of creating an ice palace, racing across the frozen St. Lawrence River and parades also came to be at this time. Although the festival wasn’t initially set to a specific cadence, it became an annual event in 1955 after the province recovered from the economic crisis and the Second World War.

Today, the carnival attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year. Residents and visitors get to experience Quebec City’s winter traditions alongside the iconic mascot, Bonhomme, and scintillating performances.

 Quebec Winter Carnival

There’s no shortage of activities and events across Quebec City that take place during the carnival, including:

  • the masquerade ball at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac;
  • races, tournaments, and competitions, such as sleigh races, ice canoe races, and the Snowboard Cross FIS World Cup;
  • outdoor banquets; 
  • snow bath (bain de neige); 
  • public and silent auctions; and
  • outdoor skating at Place D’Youville.

While in the area, you can visit Old Quebec, a UNESCO Heritage Site and oldest neighbourhood in the city. It boasts many museums, art galleries, historic architecture, churches, forts, urban parks, and pedestrian-only streets lined with shops, bistros, and cafes. 

If you plan to visit in 2023,  the carnival will take place between February 3 and 12. You’ll want to book your stay and dining experiences early.

Just because the colder weather has hit doesn’t mean festival season is gone! Canada is home to many winter and snow festivals that take advantage of the elements, creating welcoming and exciting activities for you and the whole family! 


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