Listen up, city dwellers: there’s more to Canada than downtown restaurants and cottage country. Every small town in the country has its own history, culture, and regional celebrations. As summer winds down and the trees begin to change colour, there’s no better time to take a trip outside of city limits and see what adventures you can find.
Whether it’s taking a ride in a hot air balloon, walking in a parade, taking in some great local bands, or enjoying tasty local delicacies, there is no shortage of family-friendly entertainment to be had, even as the days grow cooler. We've done some of the legwork for you already by compiling the top five must-see small-town festivals to visit this summer.
Hot Air Balloon Festival — Gatineau, Quebec
This Labour Day Weekend marks the 27th anniversary of Gatineau's Hot Air Balloon Festival, and it's not just about balloon rides. See music acts like Jason Derulo and American Idol season 11 winner Philip Philips. There is also a circus show, fireworks, amusement park, magic act and even a strongman competition. It's the perfect way to blow off some hot air at the end of summer.
Prince Edward County Pumpkin Festival — Wellington, Ontario
Pumpkin lovers, rejoice! The yearly Pumpkin Festival in Prince Edward County provides the country’s largest pumpkins, and a full day of related festivities for the perfect October day in the countryside. From a pumpkin parade to a world record-setting weigh-in, this gourd-themed gala has proven to be a huge hit and the perfect family festival. (Just try not to wear orange.)
Celtic Colours — Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
This extravagant festival runs for over a week, and is an all-out celebration of Cape Breton Island’s historical and contemporary culture. This year’s lineup contains dozens of musical acts, picked from all over the world to perform at any of the festival’s 46 concerts. A constant stream of workshops and activities are offered all week, and once the sun sets, there are late night events for any party-minded individuals. Once you’ve had your fill of food and music (as if that’s possible), take a moment to appreciate the famous beauty of Cape Breton Island during October. Don’t forget to bring a camera!
Pender Harbour Jazz Festival — Pender Harbour, BC
If the idea of watching live jazz near a beach sounds amazing to you, then it’s time to head west for the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival. What this festival lacks in quantity, it makes up for in staggering quality, embracing a truly global soundscape with performers from around the world. Concertgoers with access to a boat will be able to access most of the venues by water (this is why beachside concerts are the best), and the late-September setting will provide the perfect mix of warm and cool for all in attendance. Come for the Dan Brubeck Quartet, stay for the soothing rhythm of the waves.
Buffalo Harvest Days — Fort Macleod, Alberta
Many festivals offer a glimpse into the past with activities that demonstrate how people used to live, but how many of them do it from a First Nations perspective? The popular Buffalo Harvest Days return to Alberta to inform and entertain. From sampling buffalo-themed cuisine, to going on an area tour with a real Blackfoot guide, to the always-popular “Living Off The Land” workshop (Survivor Man has got nothing on this!), this festival helps share the inherited wisdom of the Plains People in a way that will stick with you for years to come.