Culture + Style

From Powwows to Souks: 5 Must-Do Calgary Cultural Festivals

While Calgary is best known for its cowboy culture and the Calgary Stampede, its lesser-known festivals showcase the diverse ethnicities that comprise the city. Instead of bull riding, think salsa dancing; instead of Korn on a Stick, think tajine and hummus.

Here are our top five picks for Calgary events and cultural festivals.

Family Day Festival & Pow Wow

When: June

Held around Canada’s National Aboriginal Day (June 21) every year, the Family Day Festival & Powwow reflects the pride of the area’s indigenous peoples through traditional dance competitions, live music and aboriginal food. The Calgary twist? The day kicks off with a pancake breakfast, Stampede style.

Then the powwow begins, and dancers dressed in traditional regalia compete in a variety of styles. Visitors can also take lessons in Métis jigging (dancing), watch talent showcases and take the little ones to join children’s activities throughout the day.

The evening brings musical performances from First Nations and Inuit musicians and a Métis jigging performance, and it ends with a round dance that everyone can participate in.

Carifest

When: August

calgary events
Celebrate Caribbean arts and culture at Carifest. (Photo: Alamy)

The energy is high for Carifest, a celebration of Caribbean arts and culture. The event kicks off with a colorful masquerade of shimmying performers and music makers. Called a “Mas” for short, this is a parade-like walk from Olympic Plaza to Shaw Millennium Park. Its mix of African and European cultures creates a rambunctious, Caribbean-style street party.

After the parade, gather at the park for more music, an arts and crafts market, and Caribbean-inspired food: Grab a plate of jerk chicken and get your dancing shoes moving.

Afrikadey!

When: August

This multi-day celebration of all things Africa gets funky with music, dance, food, theater, film, literature and visual arts. The continent of Africa is huge, so Afrikadey! encompasses a vibrant variety of cultures, styles and cuisines.

A favorite activity is the drumming workshop, where participants learn how to communicate with rhythm and bang out beats that get the crowd bouncing.

As the sun sets, nighttime concerts begin, showcasing up-and-coming and well-known musicians of African descent. They bring together people all of ethnicities to groove on the grass.

Calgary Japanese Festival “Omatsuri”

When: August

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Plan a day filled with Japanese culture at the Calgary Japanese Festival. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Martial arts presentations, sake tasting, tea ceremonies and kimono dressing demonstrations fill the day with Japanese culture at the Calgary Japanese Festival (“Omatsuri” means “traditional festival”). Kids love the reenactments of classic Japanese fairy tales as well as trying their hand at games played for prizes. Got a teenager to contend with? They’ll get creative with the Manga Caricature demonstrations.

The day reaches its climax as the local favorite Shinya Taiko Kai group takes the stage to perform a type of energetic, traditional drumming called taiko.

Calgary Arab Festival

When: July, August or September

The Middle Eastern marketplace, or souk, gets transplanted to Canada as a less-congested version of the original at the Calgary Arab Festival. Arab cultures from a variety of countries are featured through dancing, music and crafts, while the food spans Egyptian, Yemeni, Syrian, Indonesian and Turkish cuisines.

Tents are set up throughout the festival grounds, each featuring a different Arab country. The hosts exude warm Arab hospitality and will enthusiastically welcome you inside to share their traditions with you. Make sure not to miss the shisha (hookah) café!