The Festivals of Vancouver

Sight Number 17 – The Festivals of Vancouver Festivals abound in Vancouver and they begin on the first day of the year. There are Polar Bear swims at various places in the Lower Mainland such as Deep Cove in North Vancouver and at Davis Bay on the Sunshine Coast, but the largest gathering of swimmers is at English Bay where thousands of Vancouverites and visitors plunge into the cool ocean. Grandmothers, hula girls, and drunken Vikings all take a dip. The Bald Eagle festival in Brackendale near Squamish happens during January and the annual count of these magnificent birds takes place during the festival. The Chinese New Year is celebrated at either the end of January or the beginning of February. The main parade takes place behind the International Village on a Sunday and is a photographer’s delight. Not only are there lion dancers, but also traditional costumes, banners, dragons, and lucky fish. With a nod to the multi-culturalism of Vancouver, the parade also includes First Nations people in traditional costumes and exotic Brazilian dancers who must get quite cold in their outfits. In February, the Vancouver Storytelling Festival, with the emphasis on children, occurs at various venues In April Vaisakhi parades are held on different weekends in Surrey and in South Vancouver. In May, in Surrey, one of the largest rodeos in North America, the Cloverdale Rodeo, is held at the fairgrounds on the weekend nearest to Victoria Day. Vanier Park in Kitsilano hosts the Vancouver International Children’s Festival starting on the last Monday. There are activity tents, storytelling workshops, and plenty of craft-making opportunities. This festival draws entertainers from all over the world and has something to offer children of all ages. In June things become hectic. The Dragon Boat Festival takes place over a long weekend on the waters of False Creek. The Shakespearean festival “Bard on the Beach” begins in Vanier Park running until September. With the dramatic North Shore Mountains as a backdrop, the two large tents set the stage for the season’s four productions. The International Jazz Festival starts in late June for 10 days of excellent music. Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, and Diana Krall have been some of the headline acts in the last few years. There are free open-air concerts in Gastown and at over 30 other locations in Vancouver.  In July, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival takes place over three days in Jericho Beach Park with local and international singers, musicians, and storytellers. The Celebration of Light international fireworks competition is held on two consecutive Saturdays and Wednesdays at the end of July and beginning of August over English Bay. This is the most popular festival in Vancouver with hundreds of thousands of attendees. People start claiming their places up to 8 hours in advance, so if you want a good view, get there early. In the last few weeks of July and the first week of August Vancouver’s Pride Festival takes place with the highlight being the exceptionally popular Pride Parade on the last Sunday. In August, out in the Fraser Valley, the Abbotsford Air Show fills the skies with skydivers, wingwalkers, and aerial acrobatics. In Vancouver a lesser-known festival is the Indian Chariot parade. These large vehicles, pulled by followers of Lord Krishna, weave their way along Beach Avenue and finish at Second Beach in Stanley Park. The chariots are spectacularly colourful and enthusiasts dance along in front of them in a genuine show of happiness. Granville Island hosts the Wooden Boat festival during late August.  

A Vancouver institution is the fair at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds at the end of August and beginning of September. Known locally as the PNE, the major attractions are the amusement park rides. Other highlights include the athletic Superdogs, the various ethnic fast foods that are sold, and my personal favourite, the racing ducks and piglets. The Vancouver International Film Festival happens over 16 days in late September and the first half of October. Documentaries are particularly well represented. In November, the Burnaby Village Museum is transformed into a Christmas scene with carollers, costumed townsfolk, and craft making. In December, the Four Seasons Hotel hosts the Christmas Tree Festival, the VanDusen Gardens are illuminated during their Festival of Lights, and Stanley Park’s miniature train journeys through a spectacular display of Christmas decorations.       

If you like this information, please consider buying my online guide to Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria, and The Sunshine Coast which is available at

Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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