A handful of Canadian festivals attained and held international recognition and drew performers and listeners from all parts of Canada and, by the 1990s, elsewhere in the world. Best known of these was the Mariposa Folk Festival, founded in 1961. It began modestly in Orillia, Ont, but by 1968, when it moved to Toronto Island, it was the largest festival in North America, attracting international performers such as Joni MITCHELL, Joan Baez, IAN AND SYLVIA Tyson and Gordon LIGHTFOOT. Mariposa's use of multiple workshop and concert stages and its development of separate craft, children's and other specialty areas became the model for other major festivals. In the late 1990s this classic festival was reborn as Mariposa in Muskoka.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival (est 1974), the largest festival into the 1990s, offered a wide variety of music, song, dance and storytelling from all over the continent. Singer-songwriters gained in popularity, but traditional music was still featured. In later years this festival became even more eclectic in forms and styles of music and song. International performers were invited from Europe, Africa and Asia. While the Winnipeg Folk Festival was no longer the largest of the Canadian festivals by the late 1990s, it established a model that still influences other musical events in both Canada and the US. The size ranking of festivals at the turn of the century was Edmonton (est 1980), Winnipeg, Vancouver (est 1979) and then Calgary (est 1980). Winnipeg, Vancouver and Calgary take place in July, Edmonton in August. These festivals draw 10 000 to 20 000 people a day, of all ages and backgrounds. The usual format offers a wide variety of workshops at different sites during the day and large main-stage concerts at night.
Many of the smaller festivals, particularly those in the Maritimes, depend more on local and traditional performers. Other festivals throughout Canada offer a mix of traditional and contemporary material: for example, the Brimstone Head Folk Festival in Newfoundland and the new Stan Rogers Festival (est 1997) in Nova Scotia. Ontario alone offers dozens of medium-sized festivals, such as Summerfolk in Owen Sound (est 1976), the CKSU Ottawa Folk Festival (est 1994 - successor to Festival of the Folks) and the more recent Whitby Folk Festival (est 1997). One of the newest festivals was founded in Regina in 1999.
Increasing numbers of smaller festivals focus on a particular musical tradition (Jewish klezmer music, for example), or in one case, a single instrument: Carrefour Mondial de l'Accordie in Montagny, Québec is an international festival of accordion music.
Folk music festivals frequently featured storytellers, and there were also several Canadian festivals devoted almost entirely to storytelling with a smaller musical component. The oldest of these, the Toronto Festival of Storytelling, has influenced similar festivals across Canada. Significant festivals take place in Vancouver and Edmonton, while Calgary, Winnipeg, and Fredericton, among others, have held modest storytelling events. The Yukon International Storytelling Festival has been unique in featuring performers from local First Nations communities as well as from circumpolar regions of Europe and Asia. (See also FOLK MUSIC, ANGLO-CANADIAN; FOLK MUSIC, FRANCO-CANADIAN.)
Author KAY F. STONE
Links to Other Sites
Festivities of the Living and the Dead in the Americas
A multimedia tour of major festivals across Canada and throughout the Americas. Describes the origins and unique features of each event. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Ontario Council of Folk Festivals
A directory of folk and roots music festivals in Ontario. Also features the society’s newsletter "Folk Prints." From the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals.
CJTM: Canadian Journal for Traditional Music
Access a vast archive of full text articles from previous issues of the CJTM. A great information source about traditional music in Canada.
Check out Penguin Eggs magazine for current news about Canada’s folk scene. Features sample articles and music reviews.
Canadian Folk Music Awards
The website for the Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Folklore Studies Association of Canada
The website for the Folklore Studies Association of Canada. Check out the latest news about folklore studies in Canada, awards and prizes, and abstracts of academic articles from the journal “Ethnologies.”
Water Valley Community Association
The website for the Water Valley Community Association. Offers information about local organizations and events, including the popular Water Valley Celtic Festival.
Apple Hollow Music Fest
The website for the Apple Hollow Music Fest, located in southwestern Québec.
The website for Gary Fjellgaard, award winning western roots singer-songwriter.
Kerrville Music Festivals
A Texas tradition, the Kerrville Music Festivals feature some of the world’s best folk singers. Many links to musicians’ websites.
Click on the album covers to access audio clips from recordings featuring Gordon Lightfoot. From Rhino Entertainment.
A History of Folk Music in English Canada
A historical overview of Anglo-Canadian folk music written by Gary Cristall, former director of the Vancouver Folk Festival.
Listen to recordings by your favourite musicians at the website for CBC Music.
In Memory of Sam Gesser, 1930–2008
A tribute to the legendary Canadian music producer and promoter Sam Gesser. Click on the link “Classic Canadian Songs from Smithsonian Folkways” to listen to music clips from this recording. From the website “folkwaysAlive!”
Miramichi Folksong Festival
The website for the popular Miramichi Folksong Festival, which focuses on authentic, traditional, and contemporary folk music.