Festival Season

Celebrating Festival Season

The sights, sounds and tastes of coastal BC’s vibrant festival scene

by Julia Williams and Jessica Woollard

Photo by Alyssa Burtt

Surrounded by the vibrant flowers and greenery of a heritage garden, writers and book lovers relax in a 500-seat open-air pavilion on BC’s idyllic Sunshine Coast. This inspiring space overlooking downtown Sechelt, a community of 9,000 nestled between the Salish Sea and the Sechelt Inlet, is where the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts takes place each year.

Jane Davidson, producer of the August festival, calls it “summer camp” for the literary. “(The setting) is quite spectacular,” says Davidson, who has led the 34-year-old festival for the past decade. “People walk in and their jaws drop.”

The Rockwood Centre heritage gardens in Sechelt, photo by Teresa Nightingale

Many festivals on the BC coast produce that same jaw-dropping effect. Whether they are celebrations of art, salmon, craft beer or yodeling, the settings are breathtaking. Each boasts a backdrop of natural abundance — seascapes, verdant woods or colourful blossoms — filling locals with pride and giving tourists a glimpse of life on the coast.

Festivals bring people together in celebration of art, culture, history, music, food, drink, a season or a hobby. They’ve become a key part of the summertime plans of visitors and locals alike.

Being there

Canadian writers could gather in any number of places, but Davidson says there’s something about Sechelt and its atmosphere that inspires creative thinking.

“It’s summertime and it’s Sechelt and it’s waterfront and it’s casual,” she says. This year’s speaker lineup includes Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes; past big-name headliners include Ann-Marie MacDonald and Jane Urquhart.

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Under the trees at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Photo by Eric Scott

Linda Tanaka is the managing artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which takes place on Jericho Beach, the strip of sand that separates the neighbourhood of Kitsilano from English Bay. “We’re in a neighbourhood in the city, and we’re right on the beach. We’re big on recycling and composting and we’re respectful of the environment,” she says.

The festival, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in July 2017, is held on Musqueam First Nations land, a connection that’s honoured with a traditional opening ceremony.

Festivals and islands

Victoria, the provincial capital on Vancouver Island, has seen tremendous success with a number of public festivals, including the Victoria Dragonboat Festival, Taste: Victoria’s Festival of Food and Wine, and the Victoria International Buskers Festival.

Victoria has a “stunning natural stage,” says John Vickers, executive director of three free public festivals—the aforementioned Buskers Festival, the Victoria International Chalk Art Festival and the Victoria Kite Festival.

“There’s the Empress (Hotel) and the Legislative building — the downtown is a grand theatre. We need to scale our level of art to (the backdrop).”

The Buskers Festival, which concluded its seventh year in July, has become one of the city’s largest, drawing thousands of locals and tourists of all ages to grab a meal at a food truck and watch international street performers with the picturesque Inner Harbour in the background.

Vickers has met people who make the capital their holiday destination because of the festival: “The big driver is experiential tourism.”

Sechelt Inlet
Sechelt Inlet, Thinkstock

Davidson agrees; tourism influences the success of the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt, which, though not an Island, is only accessible by boat or plane.

“Half of our audience travels to the Sunshine Coast,” she says. “We need and welcome the visitors who get on that ferry and come to see us every August.”

Community builders

Festivals are born when practical and emotional needs converge, says Linda Tanaka of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, which this year welcomed Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn to the stage.

“I think communities want to celebrate,” she says. “They want to celebrate their culture, the music or the art around them.”

Sometimes, festivals create festivals. The success of the Festival of the Written Arts gave rise to a number of concurrent festivals in Sechelt, including the Hackett Park Juried Craft Fair and the Power of Paint, Eleven Equal Artists exhibition.

The events complement each other, drawing more people out to connect in the community.

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Sunshine Festival of the Written Arts audience members in the open-air theatre, Photo by Teresa Nightingale


Vancouver Island

Filberg Festival

July 29–31  |  All ages  |  $13–$15

Walk among trees and gardens and admire the work of artists and artisans at one of western Canada’s largest juried outdoor art show. Two stages feature music groups throughout the event; a children’s area offers storytelling, entertainment, face painting, crafts and games.

(61 Filberg Rd, Comox, filbergfestival.com)

Victoria Symphony Splash

July 31  |  All ages  |  Free

More a spectacle than a festival, this one-day family event sees the Victoria Symphony Orchestra perform on a floating stage in the Inner Harbour accompanied by navy field guns and a fireworks display. The family zone is a popular stop for children. Food trucks and vendors available.

(Victoria Inner Harbour, victoriasymphony.ca)

Campbell River Salmon Festival

Aug. 5–7  |  All ages  |  $2–$5

More than savouring sizzling barbecued salmon, this festival doubles as a kind of “logger sports” Olympics. Watch competitions in log rolling, single hand bucking, axe throwing, and power saw bucking; the kids will enjoy face painting, bouncy castles and a climbing wall, free with admission.

(Nunns Creek Park, Campbell River, crsalmonfestival.com)

Salt Spring Music & Garlic Festival

Aug. 6–7  |  All ages  |  $40–$75, children under 12 free

This aromatic event launched in 2015 and features open-air musical performances and vendor booths by local food producers. Proceeds provide grants and bursaries to the sustainable farming, music and education sectors.

(Paradise Farm, 255 Musgrave Road, Salt Spring Island, saltspringislandmusicandgarlicfestival.com)

Victoria Dragonboat Festival

Aug. 12–14   |  All ages  |  Free

Victoria boasts Canada’s oldest Chinatown; it’s only fitting the Dragonboat Festival makes a splash in the capital city. Experience the traditional eye-dotting ceremony, dedicate a paper lantern to support a future free of cancer, and watch more than 80 teams race to the finish line in the heart of the Inner Harbour.

(Victoria Inner Harbour, victoriadragonboat.com)

Great Canadian Beer Festival

Sept. 9–10  |  19+  |  $40

Held each September since 1993, the Great Canadian Beer Festival attracts thousands of imbibers to sample some 200 Canadian beers from breweries new and established. There are also food trucks, food booths and live music.

(Royal Athletic Park, Victoria, gcbf.com)

Sunshine Coast

Pender Harbour Jazz Festival

Sept. 16–18  |  All ages  |  $30 (kids under 12 free)

This festival welcomes first-rate jazz musicians working in a range of styles for a weekend of live performances. It celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2016. Headlining the festival is a popular Canadian duo, Two Much Guitar.

(Venues in Pender Harbour, penderharbourmusic.ca)

8th Annual Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival

October 14–16  |  All ages  |  Free

Presented by the Sunshine Coast Society for the Hunting, Recognition and Observation of Mushrooms, or SHROOM, this annual festival includes a mushroom show, expert presentation and a foray.

(Madeira Park, scshroom.org)


Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival

Until Sept. 24  |  age 6+  |  From $20

Experience four Shakespeare plays performed by a professional company on a waterfront setting. The plays take place under enormous tents, one that is open-ended, meaning the players perform with a backdrop of mountains, sea and sky. Educational talks take place before every performance. On site amenities: concession, bar and boutique of Shakespearean mementos. This year’s plays: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Pericles.

(Vanier Park, bardonthebeach.org)

Honda Celebration of Light and Shorefest

Jul. 23 and Jul. 27  |  All ages  |  Free

A combination beachfront music fest and international fireworks competition over English Bay produces a cultural experience with a view. Food and drink vendors on site.

(Sunset Beach and English Bay, hondacelebrationoflight.com)

Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

Aug. 26–Sept. 4  |  All ages  |$8–$12

A celebration of contemporary Latin American and Latin-Canadian culture and filmmaking, this festival has showcased Latin-Canadian cinema since 2003.

(Various venues, vlaff.org)