Canada’s climate is hugely varied, but it’s a safe generalization to say the areas near the coast have milder winters and cooler summers than the interior.
July and August are reliably warm throughout the country, even in the far north, making these the busiest months to visit, with September also warm (and busy) in the south (note also that the sun sets much later in the far north in summer).
In Newfoundland, the Maritime Provinces and the North the tourist infrastructure closes down completely from October to May, though the long autumn can be the best time to visit Ontario and Québec, when there are equable temperatures and few crowds. November to March is an ordeal of subzero temperatures almost everywhere except on the West Coast, though winter days in many areas are clear and dry, and all large Canadian towns are geared to the challenge of cold conditions, with covered walkways and indoor malls protecting their inhabitants from the worst of the weather.
The southwestern parts of British Columbia enjoy some of Canada’s best weather: the extremes are less marked and the overall temperatures generally milder than elsewhere. Much of the province, though, bears the brunt of Pacific depressions, so this is one of the country’s damper regions: visiting between late spring and early autumn offers the best chance of missing the rain.
Every province chips in with its share of festivals, from pageants and parades celebrating local events, through to more prestigious theatrical seasons and film festivals. Provincial tourist offices can provide free festival and events calendars for each region.
Polar Bear Swim Vancouver, BC (w vancouver.ca). A New Year’s Day swim in the freezing waters of English Bay Beach – said to bring good luck for the year (if you survive).
Banff/Lake Louise Ice Magic Festival Banff and Lake Louise, AB (w banfflakelouise.com). Ski races, skating parties and the incredible International Ice Sculpture Competition on the shores of Lake Louise.
Winterlude Ottawa, ON (w ottawatourism.ca). Winter-warming activities such as ice sculpting, snowshoe races, ice boating and skating for all on the canal.
Winter Carnival Québec City, QC (w carnaval.qc.ca). Two-week festival of winter-sports competitions, ice-sculpture contests and parades. Includes the Canadian ski marathon when skiers race between Lachute and Gatineau.
Montréal En Lumière Montréal, QC (w montrealenlumiere.com). Festival that, like Québec City’s, tries to make the most of winter with a multitude of shows and food events.
Pacific Rim Whale Festival Tofino and Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, BC (w pacificrimwhalefestival.com). Celebrating the spring migration of grey whales with lots of whale-spotting expeditions as well as music and dance events.
Shaw Festival Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON (w shawfest.com). Highly regarded theatre festival featuring the work of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. Performances from April to late Oct.
Apple Blossom Festival Annapolis Valley, NS (w appleblossom.com). Community-oriented festival held in the small towns and villages of this apple-producing valley in Nova Scotia.
Stratford Festival Stratford, ON (w stratfordfestival.ca). A first-class Shakespeare Festival. Runs from May to early Nov.
Canadian Tulip Festival Ottawa, ON (w tulipfestival.ca). Three million tulips in a riot of colour all over the city.
Banff Summer Arts Festival Banff, AB (w banffcentre.ca). Young-artist showcase: music, opera, dance, drama, comedy and visual arts, from June to Aug.
Edmonton International Jazz Festival Edmonton, AB (w edmontonjazz.com). Ten days of jazz concerts, free outdoor events and workshops.
Pride Week Toronto, ON (w pridetoronto.com). Gigantic celebration of gay culture, with huge parades and street parties that attract a million spectators.
Festival International de Jazz de Montréal Montréal, QC (w montrealjazzfest.com). The world’s largest jazz festival (ten days) features over five hundred shows, including the world’s top names; most outdoor performances are free; more than two million people attend.
Canada Day Ottawa, ON, and nationwide. Fireworks, parades and a day off for patriotic shenanigans every July 1.
Pow-Wows Nationwide (w powwows.com). Traditional Aboriginal Canadian celebrations taking place on reserves across the country in July and Aug.
Calgary Stampede Calgary, AB (w calgarystampede.com). One of the biggest rodeos in the world: all the usual cowboy trappings, plus chuck-wagon rides, craft exhibitions, aboriginal dancing and much more.
K-Days Edmonton, AB (w k-days.com). Family-targeted festival featuring theme park and fairground games, a food festival, parades, live music shows and the replica Chilkoot Gold Mine.
Antigonish Highland Games Antigonish, NS (w antigonishhighlandgames.ca). All sorts of traditional Scottish sports and activities recall the settlement of the area by Highlanders.
Halifax Jazz Festival Halifax, NS (w halifaxjazzfestival.ca). First-class jazz festival pulling in big names from round the world.
Toronto Caribbean Carnival (Caribana) Toronto, ON (w torontocaribbeancarnival.com). Large-scale three-week West Indian festival culminating in a carnival weekend with music, dance and a flamboyant parade.
Festival d’Été Québec City, QC (w infofestival.com). Arts performances, live bands and other shows on and off the streets and parks of Québec City.
Just for Laughs Montréal, QC and Toronto, ON (w hahaha.com). Internationally acclaimed comic get-together with comedians from around the world performing in theatres and on outdoor stages.
Fringe Theatre Festival Edmonton, AB (w fringetheatre.ca). One of North America’s most prestigious alternative-theatre festivals.
Montréal Pride Montréal, QC (w fiertemontrealpride.com). Québec’s turn to celebrate gay pride, with another huge parade and street parties.
Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival Squamish, BC (w squamishdays.ca). The continent’s biggest lumberjacks’ convention with impressive logging competitions.
Festival Acadian Caraquet, NB (w festivalacadien.ca). Celebration of Acadian culture in the northeast of New Brunswick.
Miramichi Folk Song Festival Newcastle, NB (w miramichifolksongfestival.com). New Brunswick’s prestigious folk festival, featuring many of the finest fiddlers in the Maritimes.
Glengarry Highland Games Maxville, ON (w glengarryhighlandgames.com). Tucked away in the corner of Eastern Ontario are the North American Pipe Band Championships, Highland dancing, Gaelic sport competitions and an overall rollicking good time. Usually held on the August Ontario long weekend.
Toronto International Film Festival Toronto, ON (w tiff.net). Internationally acclaimed film festival spread over ten days, inundated with Hollywood stars.
Vancouver International Film Festival Vancouver, BC (w viff.org). Another of Canada’s highly rated film fests.
Okanagan Fall Wine Festival Okanagan, BC (w thewinefestivals.com). One of the many wine events in this vine-growing region.
Oktoberfest Kitchener-Waterloo, ON (w oktoberfest.ca). Alcohol and cultural events in honour of the twin towns’ roots.
Black and Blue Montréal, QC (w bbcm.org). Major gay arts festival in Montréal.
Canadian Finals Rodeo Edmonton, AB (w cfr.ca). Pure Canuck rodeo.
Carol Ships Parade of Lights Vancouver, BC (w carolships.org). When carol singers sail around Vancouver harbour in sparkly boats.
New Year’s Eve Nationwide, but celebrated in style in St John’s, Newfoundland, where everyone heads from the pub to the waterfront for a raucous midnight party.