When temperatures dip and the leaves start to turn, fall fairs, corn mazes, and festivals dedicated to pumpkins, apples, and wine commence their annual run across Canada. Labour Day weekend kicks off the autumnal revelries and the eating, drinking, and jamming doesn’t stop for months. From the various Oktoberfests to Quebec’s annual hot-air balloon festival, there’s plenty to entertain this time of year.
1. Fall Okanagan Wine Festival
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is one of the biggest producers of wine in Canada. For 10 days in early October, this region, with its scenic setting among lakes and mountains, celebrates the fall grape harvest with more than 60 events centered around wine, food, and culture. Known as the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, the event series has been an October tradition since 1980. While the annual British Columbia Lieutenant Governor’s Wine Awards, with which the festival kicks off every year, is scheduled for September 23 to 25 at Manteo Resort in Kelowna, most of the bigger events have been canceled in 2020.
2. Niagara Grape & Wine Festival
Featuring winery tours and tastings, concerts, local cuisine, artisan shows, wine seminars, family entertainment, and one of Canada’s largest street parades, the annual Niagara Grape & Wine Festival in St. Catharines, Ontario, is another celebration of vino taking place on the opposite side of the country to Okanagan Valley. The highlight is doubtless the Montebello Park Experience, a six-day concert and wine tasting event occupying one of the oldest parks in the Niagara region. The 2020 Niagara Grape & Wine Festival has been modified to a Discovery Pass program where ticket holders can attend smaller wine and culinary events that are booked in advance. It will also include a live-streamed Centre Stage Saturdays concert series and a Porch Parade on September 26. All events will be held between September 11 and 27.
3. Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest
The first Saturday following Canadian Thanksgiving (landing on the second Monday of October each year), the Village of Wellington in Prince Edward County, Ontario, salutes the mighty fall squash with Pumpkinfest. This autumn classic includes a parade and pumpkin weigh-off (in which the winners often exceed 1,500 pounds). It also features contests, games, food, and live entertainment along Main Street.
Wellington is a thriving agricultural community about three hours east of Toronto. Since the late 1990s, this region has been growing its reserve of fine dining options, boutiques, wineries, and inns as it becomes increasingly tourist-friendly. Pumpkinfest 2020 is scheduled for October 17.
4. The Celtic Colours International Music Festival
The Celtic Colours International Music Festival is held for nine days every October. This unique Cape Breton Island-wide celebration of Celtic culture takes place when the region’s trees are in their full fall splendor, displaying an array of oranges, reds, and golds. It is the largest festival of its kind in North America.
Not only are visitors able to enjoy the engaging and playful sounds of Celtic music, they also get to experience the hospitality and good humor of Cape Bretoners. More than 300 activities and 50-plus concerts usually ensue. The 2020 Celtic Colours International Music Festival has been modified to an at-home celebration, including virtual performances and cultural experiences, from October 9 to 17.
5. Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest
Come fall, Oktoberfest celebrations will be cropping up all over Canada—especially where there have been large German settlements—but the biggest of them all takes place in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. This Bavarian event (the largest in North America) includes not just beer-guzzling but also dozens of family-friendly activities, music, friendly competitions, and a Canadian Thanksgiving Day parade. Featured is the Ride Dine ‘N’ Stein bar crawl, the Oktoberfest Golf Experience, the Miss Oktoberfest Gala, Bogenschuetzenfest & the Running Boar, and A Blooming Affair Fashion Show. Although Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest may undergo some alterations in 2020, including smaller in-person gatherings and virtual experiences, it will carry on September 25 to October 12.
6. Nuit Blanche Toronto
Each year, the city of Toronto joins in on the internationally celebrated Nuit Blanche (aka White Night) tradition in which cities everywhere stage all-night art displays and cultural events. Toronto’s version typically sees more than 150 engaging, amusing, thought-provoking, or downright wacky contemporary art installations—many of them projected onto its largest buildings—across the city. The party commences at dusk and continues until dawn, always on a Saturday in late September or early October. The 2020 celebration will be entirely virtual, featuring digital exhibitions around the theme “The Space Between Us,” on the night of October 3.
7. The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival
Also known as the Festival de montgolfières de Gatineau (FMG), this hot-air balloon extravaganza marks the day dozens of colorful aircraft take to the skies of western Quebec, warranting a weekend of music, amusement rides, and competitions. Other features of the festival include live concerts, an exhibition of classic and modified cars, arts and crafts vendors, a graffiti contest, a kids’ zone, and the rare opportunity to ride in the balloons. Located in the Outaouais region, this festival takes place annually over Labour Day weekend, September 2 to 6, 2020. This year, it is reduced to a “micro-series,” meaning virtual performances and the addition of a fireworks show.
8. Prince Edward International Shellfish Festival
The Prince Edward Island International Shellfish Festival marries maritime hospitality and delectable shellfish. Described as culinary by day, kitchen party by night, this festival features celebrity chefs, live competitions, and, of course, an obscene amount of shellfish consumption, including pristinely prepared lobster, crab, mussels, and the like. One of the highlights is the Shellfish Excellence Award, presented by Restaurants Canada to the restaurateur who has provided the year’s most exceptional service and local seafood. The 2020 event would have been the PEI International Shellfish Festival’s 25th anniversary, but it has been postponed to 2021.
9. The Winona Peach Festival
Located between Toronto and Niagara Falls, the small town of Winona celebrates the seasonal peach harvest with a festival on the last weekend of August. Pies and carnival rides are normally in great supply, but be wary of boarding the Tilt-A-Whirl after sampling the sweets. A car show, fish pond, draw lottery, arts and craft vendors, and the crowning of the Festival Queen provide additional entertainment.