Calgary Summer Cultural Festivals

dancers onstage at Afrikadey, one of many Calgary cultural festivals

dancers onstage at Afrikadey

Almost every summer weekend in Calgary, you can experience a different culture. Sometimes you can even virtually visit two continents in the same week without leaving the city limits. This list of Calgary cultural festivals  demonstrates how amazingly diverse the city really is.

June

Calgary Ukrainian Festival

Western Canada has so many families of Ukrainian origin that pyrogies are practically considered Canadian food. This festival is a chance to chow down on some of the tasty dumplings, enjoy good vodka and watch the dancers swirl across the stage. If you’ve never seen Ukrainian dancing, it’s quite the athletic endeavor, particularly the jumps and kicks of the male dancers. Performances run throughout the day Friday and Saturday, finishing off with a big Zabava dance party on Saturday night.

2 aboriginal hoop dancers performing at family Day Pow Wow

image credit: Calgary Sun

Family Day Pow Wow

This event capping off Aboriginal Awareness Week in Calgary includes traditional dance competitions, musical performances and food at Stampede Park. With Canada’s recent (justified) focus on Truth and Reconciliation, events like this can play an important role in the healing process. The pow wow is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the culture of Canada’s indigenous peoples in a festive atmosphere.

July

Franco Festival

This event celebrates the diversity of francophone cultures around the world, including Canada’s very own Quebec, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa. It focuses on the arts, including music, dance and visual art with musical performances, a cultural village and craft workshops. They’ve recently moved the event to Shaw Millennium Park at the west end of downtown.

Fiestaval

Olympic Plaza will be sizzling with Latin dancers and musicians performing on stage all weekend during this free event. And the dancing won’t be contained to the stage – impromptu salsa moments will spring up throughout the crowd on a regular basis. There will be food vendors and a beer garden to help you stay energized.

Calgary Turkish Festival

This gathering showcases Turkish food, music, heritage and culture. They stage demonstrations of Turkish calligraphy and handicrafts along with performances of music and dance. There are children’s activities too. But for me, it’s mostly it’s about the food: kebabs, donairs, pastries and of course Turkish coffee.

August

Afrikadey

If there’s a summer musical event that will get your heart pounding, this one is it. With high energy drummers, dancers, DJs and musicians taking turns on the stage, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to groove along. They mix up the program to include both traditional and contemporary acts from all over Africa.

The beer garden set among the trees of Prince’s Island Park is a fine place to sip a beverage while taking in the show. You can also do a bit of shopping at the colourful craft marketplace.  It’s a large venue for such a small festival, so there’s lots of room to spread out.

ExpoLatino

This is Calgary’s second summer Latin festival – who knew our Hispanic community was so big? Or maybe they just like to party twice as much as anyone else? Similar to Fiestaval, this event offers Latin music, dancing and food. This time, the action takes place at Prince’s Island park.

Each day of the 3-day festival starts out with a mass outdoor dance class led by an instructor onstage. Between your tango and bachata classes, you can salsa over to the food and craft vendors or hydrate in the beer gardens.

Calgary Arab Festival

Only a couple of years old, this new event on the scene will showcase traditions from all over the Arab world, from Abu Dhabi to Yemen. As with most of our cultural festivals, music and food play a big part. I haven’t been to this one yet, but I’d love to check out the “Arabian Night” concert where they’ll be turning Olympic Plaza into an outdoor shisha bar.

Omatsuri Japanese Festival

‘Matsuri’ means festival in the Japanese language. This one features re-enactments of traditional Japanese fairy tales, martial arts demonstrations, sake tastings, tea ceremonies and kimono dressing demonstrations, among other activities

My favourite aspect of Japanese culture is the drumming groups with their precise rhythms and choreographed moves. Oh, and I also don’t mind feasting on sushi, gyoza and noodles.

Carifest

These guys start the day off right with a late morning parade. It’s a swirl of colour and party vibes as the masquerade bands shake and shimmy down the street to pulsing beats blasting from loudspeakers. High pitched whistles punctuate the rhythms as elaborately costumed performers with gigantic plumed headdresses pose and preen like peacocks

After the parade, everyone heads over to Shaw Millenium Park for the ‘Sunshine Festival’. Musicians hit the stage and food vendors crank up the heat. The smell of grilled jerk chicken fills the air; the best jerk chicken I’ve had anywhere in fact. Even better when washed down with an ice cold ginger beer.

Calgary Dragon Boat Races

If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to coordinate your paddling when sitting in a boat with one other person, imagine trying to synchronize with 19 fellow rowers. It’s why dragon boats have drummers to set the pace. But in a racing situation, how do you keep from being distracted by the competition’s drummers? It’s all part of the challenge and makes for noisy fun to watch.

Besides the races, there are live bands and cultural performances throughout the weekend. They also have a beer garden and food trucks to keep you fed and watered as you cheer for your favourite boats.

colourful carved dragon boat on the water with drummer and team of rowers

image credit: Chinatown Calgary

GlobalFest

If you love fireworks, this one is for you. An international fireworks competition pits 4 countries against each other throughout the 10-day event. One country is featured every other night, with the alternating nights acting as fallbacks in case of bad weather. Each nation puts on about a 15-minute show choreographed to music, and the winning country performs an encore on the 10th night.

With Calgary’s long summer daylight hours, the sparks don’t start flying until about 10:00 pm. However, the venue at Elliston Park opens at 6:00 pm for the OneWorld Festival preceding each night’s show. A handful of cultural pavilions will be spread out across the site. Each one has food offerings and usually entertainment too. It’s best to show up around dinner time, set out your chairs or a blanket to reserve your fireworks-viewing spot, and then grab a meal at one of the pavilions.

September

Highland Games

This is the one where the Scots get together to hurl, throw and toss large and heavy objects. Projectiles include cabers (pine logs), stones, hammers, sheafs and weights. It’s fun to watch the kilts fly as the contestants swing and heave. Half the time, I’m cringing, just waiting for one of them to slip a disc.

The event also includes a highland dance performances, pipe bands, tug ‘o war, and a herding dog competition. I got a big kick out of the duck-herding for some reason. There’s a beer tent too, where you’ll get to see the strongmen up close as they hoist frothy beverages to end off the day.

Calgary Greek Festival

I’ve been to this event in the SW neighbourhood of Spruce Cliff for the past few years. It’s always good food and interesting people watching. After years of having their festival dampened by rain, organizers have moved it to September. They pitch a huge tent, so it’s easy to stay dry, even if the skies do let loose. The dancing and music on stage seems almost secondary to the eating and socializing.

The roast lamb dinner isn’t cheap at $18. But the hearty plate of roast potatoes, pita bread and Greek salad really can’t be beat. There are more affordable food options available too, including souvlaki on pita, spanakopita and delicious sticky-sweet baklava.

Have a festive summer,

Mona signature

 

 

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