Canada is known for its breathtaking landscapes, friendly people, and diverse culture. However, it's also home to some of the most eccentric and unique festivals you can imagine. These festivals celebrate the quirky, the unusual, and the downright bizarre, offering experiences you truly have to see to believe. From the Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, where brave souls drink a cocktail garnished with a real human toe, to the World Championship Bathtub Race in Nanaimo, where competitors race in motorized bathtubs, Canada's festivals are as varied as they are entertaining. Whether it's the Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor, featuring giant pumpkin boats, or the Elvis Festival in Collingwood, where Elvis impersonators take over the town, these events showcase the playful and creative spirit of Canadian communities. Here are some of the most strange and wonderful festivals across Canada.

1. The Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City, Yukon

One of Canada’s most infamous and peculiar traditions is the Sourtoe Cocktail, a bizarre but wildly popular attraction at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon. This peculiar custom began in the 1970s, when Captain Dick Stevenson found a preserved human toe in an abandoned cabin and brought it to the hotel. From there, a unique challenge was born: to join the exclusive Sourtoe Cocktail Club, one must drink a cocktail containing the toe, ensuring that the toe touches their lips.

The Sourtoe Cocktail experience starts with the brave participant choosing their drink of choice—anything from whisky to beer will do, as long as it can hold the toe. The preserved toe, typically shriveled and blackened from years of use, is then carefully dropped into the glass. As the participant raises the glass, they recite the club’s famous mantra: "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch that gnarly toe." The ritual may sound off-putting, but it's a rite of passage for many visitors to Dawson City.

Over the years, the Sourtoe Cocktail has become a legendary dare, attracting curious travelers from around the world. The hotel even keeps a backup collection of toes—donated by individuals who have lost them to frostbite, accidents, or other mishaps—to ensure the tradition continues. Each toe comes with its own unique story, adding to the macabre allure of the experience.

Despite its morbid nature, the Sourtoe Cocktail is a lighthearted and memorable experience. Participants receive a certificate and membership card to commemorate their bravery, along with bragging rights that few can claim. The challenge has even sparked a friendly rivalry among those seeking to set records, such as the fastest completion time or the highest number of drinks consumed with the toe.

If you find yourself in Dawson City, the Sourtoe Cocktail is a must-try experience. It’s not just about the shock value; it’s a quirky tradition that embodies the adventurous spirit and unique character of the Yukon. Whether you're seeking a good story to tell or simply want to test your mettle, joining the Sourtoe Cocktail Club is an unforgettable highlight of any trip to this historic gold rush town.

2. The World Championship Bathtub Race in Nanaimo, British Columbia

Held annually in Nanaimo, British Columbia, the World Championship Bathtub Race is an eccentric event that has been a beloved local tradition since 1967. What started as a light-hearted competition to celebrate Canada’s centennial year has evolved into a highly anticipated event, attracting participants and spectators from around the world.

The race involves participants navigating their motorized bathtubs across a challenging 36-mile course from Nanaimo Harbour to Departure Bay. These bathtubs, often creatively decorated and customized, must adhere to specific design and safety regulations, including a maximum engine size. The sight of these bizarrely transformed bathtubs skimming across the water is both hilarious and impressive, showcasing the ingenuity and competitive spirit of the racers.

Preparation for the race is no small feat. Participants spend months modifying their bathtubs, ensuring they are seaworthy and capable of withstanding the rigors of the race. Many racers take great pride in their creations, adding unique touches and elaborate decorations to stand out. On race day, the excitement is palpable as competitors line up at the starting point, engines roaring and fans cheering them on.

The race itself is a thrilling spectacle, with bathtubs zipping through the water, occasionally capsizing or experiencing mechanical failures, adding an element of unpredictability and humor. Safety boats and volunteers are on hand to assist those who encounter difficulties, ensuring everyone can participate safely. The race’s unique combination of technical skill, creativity, and sheer determination makes for an entertaining and engaging event.

Beyond the race, the Nanaimo Marine Festival offers a range of activities and entertainment for all ages. Parades, fireworks, live music, and food vendors create a festive atmosphere that extends throughout the weekend. The festival celebrates Nanaimo’s maritime heritage and community spirit, bringing together locals and visitors for a memorable celebration.

The World Championship Bathtub Race is more than just a quirky competition; it’s a testament to the creativity and camaraderie of the Nanaimo community. Whether you’re a participant or a spectator, the race offers a unique and enjoyable experience that highlights the fun and adventurous side of Canadian culture. If you’re in British Columbia during the summer, the World Championship Bathtub Race is an event you won’t want to miss.

3. The Great International World Championship Gopher Derby in Saskatchewan

In the heart of rural Saskatchewan, the Great International World Championship Gopher Derby in Moose Jaw offers a charming and humorous celebration of local wildlife. This quirky event centers around gophers, small burrowing rodents common in the Canadian prairies. The derby, held annually, involves gopher races where these agile creatures sprint down specially constructed tracks, cheered on by enthusiastic spectators.

The origins of the Gopher Derby are rooted in rural Saskatchewan's agricultural traditions, where gophers have long been both a nuisance and a source of amusement. The event was created to add a light-hearted twist to the region's relationship with these critters, transforming them from pests into race participants. Over the years, it has grown into a beloved local festival, drawing participants and spectators from near and far.

On derby day, the atmosphere is festive and lively. Gophers are carefully selected and placed in miniature racing lanes. Each lane is lined with barriers to ensure the gophers run straight towards the finish line. The sight of these small animals scampering towards victory is both adorable and comical, often resulting in unpredictable and hilarious outcomes. Some gophers take off immediately, while others seem more interested in exploring their surroundings or stopping for a snack.

The Gopher Derby is more than just a series of races; it’s a community event filled with gopher-themed games, contests, and entertainment. There are costume contests where participants dress up as gophers, arts and crafts booths, and food stalls offering local delicacies. The highlight is the gopher parade, featuring floats and participants dressed in gopher-inspired attire, marching through the streets of Moose Jaw.

In addition to the fun and festivities, the Gopher Derby also serves as an educational opportunity. Local wildlife experts and conservationists are often on hand to provide information about gophers and their role in the ecosystem. This aspect of the event helps raise awareness about the importance of coexisting with local wildlife and promoting environmental stewardship.

The Great International World Championship Gopher Derby is a delightful example of how rural communities can turn everyday challenges into opportunities for celebration and community bonding. Whether you're a local or a visitor, the derby offers a unique glimpse into the whimsical side of Saskatchewan’s culture. It’s a fun-filled day that highlights the creativity and humor of the people who call this region home. If you’re looking for an offbeat and entertaining festival, the Gopher Derby in Moose Jaw is a must-see.

4. The BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival

Combining the excitement of dragon boat racing with the beauty of a Canadian winter, the BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival is an extraordinary event held annually during Winterlude, Ottawa’s premier winter celebration. This festival is the world’s largest ice dragon boat race, drawing teams from around the globe to compete in a truly unique sporting event on the frozen Rideau Canal.

Dragon boat racing typically involves teams paddling long, narrow boats adorned with dragon heads and tails in open water. However, the Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival takes this sport to a new level by moving it to ice. Instead of paddles, the boats are fitted with skate-like blades, and participants push their way along the canal using poles with spiked tips. This adaptation maintains the traditional dragon boat’s spirit while adding the challenge of navigating on ice.

The festival kicks off with an opening ceremony featuring a traditional dragon dance, which is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Teams, often dressed in colorful and imaginative costumes, then take to the ice for the races. The competition is fierce yet friendly, with participants and spectators alike cheering enthusiastically as the boats glide across the frozen surface.

In addition to the dragon boat races, the festival offers a variety of other winter activities and entertainment. Attendees can enjoy ice skating on the Rideau Canal, the world’s largest naturally frozen skating rink, or explore Winterlude’s ice sculptures, snow playgrounds, and culinary delights. The festival also features live music, cultural performances, and fireworks, creating a festive atmosphere that celebrates both winter and community spirit.

A highlight of the festival is the BeaverTails pastry, a beloved Canadian treat. Named after its resemblance to a beaver’s tail, this deep-fried pastry is often topped with cinnamon and sugar, chocolate, or maple syrup. Festival-goers can warm up with a hot BeaverTail and a cup of cocoa while watching the races and enjoying the winter wonderland.

The BeaverTails Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival is a testament to the creativity and resilience of Canadians, showcasing how a traditional summer sport can be reinvented for winter fun. Whether you’re a participant or a spectator, the festival offers a unique and thrilling experience that captures the magic of winter in Canada’s capital. If you’re visiting Ottawa during Winterlude, this event is a must-see, offering a blend of athleticism, tradition, and winter cheer.

5. The Elvis Festival in Collingwood, Ontario

Every summer, the small town of Collingwood, Ontario, transforms into a haven for Elvis Presley fans during the annual Collingwood Elvis Festival. This eccentric and lively festival celebrates the life and legacy of the King of Rock 'n' Roll with a weekend filled with music, tribute performances, and all things Elvis. Attracting thousands of visitors and Elvis impersonators from around the world, the festival is one of the largest events of its kind, turning the streets of Collingwood into a vibrant tribute to the iconic musician.

The festival’s main attractions are the Elvis tribute artists, who compete in various categories to earn the title of best Elvis impersonator. These performers, dressed in elaborate costumes that replicate Elvis's famous outfits, deliver energetic and heartfelt renditions of his classic hits. From young Elvis in his rockabilly days to the flamboyant Vegas years, each tribute artist brings their own flair to their performance, capturing different aspects of Elvis’s storied career.

In addition to the tribute performances, the festival features a wide range of activities and events that celebrate Elvis’s influence on music and pop culture. Attendees can enjoy concerts, dance parties, and karaoke sessions, all dedicated to the King. There are also memorabilia shows where fans can browse and purchase Elvis-themed collectibles, from vintage records and posters to costumes and jewelry.

The streets of Collingwood come alive with Elvis-themed parades, featuring classic cars, floats, and, of course, more Elvis impersonators. Local businesses join in the fun, decorating their storefronts and offering special promotions to celebrate the festival. The sense of community and shared passion for Elvis creates a welcoming and joyous atmosphere that is infectious.

For those interested in learning more about Elvis’s life and legacy, the festival offers educational panels and talks by experts and historians. These sessions provide insights into Elvis’s impact on music, his personal life, and his enduring influence on popular culture.

One of the highlights of the Collingwood Elvis Festival is the grand finale concert, where the top tribute artists perform in a spectacular show that brings the festival to a thrilling close. This concert, often held in a large outdoor venue, attracts thousands of fans and serves as a fitting tribute to the enduring legacy of Elvis Presley.

The Collingwood Elvis Festival is more than just a celebration of an iconic musician; it’s a unique cultural event that brings people together in a shared love for music and nostalgia. Whether you’re a die-hard Elvis fan or simply looking for a fun and entertaining experience, the festival offers a weekend of unforgettable performances, lively festivities, and a warm community spirit. If you find yourself in Ontario in July, the Collingwood Elvis Festival is a must-see event that promises to leave you all shook up.

6. The Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor, Nova Scotia

Every fall, the small town of Windsor, Nova Scotia, hosts one of Canada’s most whimsical and quirky events: the annual Pumpkin Regatta. This unique festival features participants paddling giant, hollowed-out pumpkins across Lake Pesaquid in a race that is as hilarious as it is impressive. The Pumpkin Regatta has become a beloved tradition in Windsor, drawing crowds of spectators eager to witness the spectacle and cheer on the competitors.

The pumpkins used in the regatta are not your average garden-variety gourds; they are giant Atlantic Giant pumpkins, often weighing over 1,000 pounds. These enormous pumpkins are meticulously grown and hollowed out by participants, who then transform them into makeshift boats. Competitors decorate their pumpkin vessels with bright colors, whimsical designs, and even elaborate themes, adding to the festive and playful atmosphere of the event.

On race day, the shores of Lake Pesaquid are lined with enthusiastic spectators, many of whom come dressed in costumes and ready to celebrate the autumn season. The event kicks off with a parade of pumpkin boats, giving participants a chance to show off their creations before taking to the water. As the race begins, the sight of these massive pumpkins bobbing and weaving across the lake is both amusing and awe-inspiring.

The race itself is not without its challenges. Steering a giant pumpkin across a lake requires a fair amount of skill and balance, and it’s not uncommon for participants to tip over or struggle to maintain a straight course. This unpredictability adds an element of excitement and humor to the event, with spectators cheering on their favorite racers and enjoying the occasional mishap.

In addition to the regatta, the festival includes a variety of pumpkin-themed activities and entertainment. There are pumpkin carving contests, pumpkin pie eating competitions, and a farmers’ market featuring local produce and handmade goods. Live music, food vendors, and family-friendly games create a lively and festive atmosphere that extends throughout the day.

The Pumpkin Regatta is more than just a race; it’s a celebration of community spirit, creativity, and the agricultural heritage of Windsor. The event brings together locals and visitors alike to enjoy the beauty of the fall season and participate in a uniquely Canadian tradition. It’s a perfect example of how a small town can turn a simple idea into a beloved and memorable festival.

If you’re visiting Nova Scotia in October, the Pumpkin Regatta in Windsor is an event you won’t want to miss. It offers a fun and entertaining day for the whole family, with plenty of laughter, excitement, and, of course, pumpkins. Whether you’re cheering from the shore or paddling your own pumpkin boat, the regatta promises a one-of-a-kind experience that captures the joy and whimsy of autumn in Canada.

7. The Great Canadian Chicken Bone Festival in Saint-Eustache, Quebec

The Great Canadian Chicken Bone Festival in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, is a delightful and eccentric celebration dedicated to a unique local candy known as Chicken Bones. Contrary to what the name might suggest, Chicken Bones are not actual chicken bones but a pink, cinnamon-flavored hard candy with a bittersweet chocolate center. This peculiar treat has been a favorite in Quebec for over a century, and the festival pays homage to this sweet tradition with a variety of candy-themed activities and events.

The festival takes place in the charming town of Saint-Eustache, where locals and visitors gather to celebrate their love for this distinctive confection. One of the main attractions is the candy-making demonstrations, where skilled confectioners showcase the process of creating Chicken Bones from scratch. These demonstrations provide a fascinating insight into traditional candy-making techniques and allow attendees to see firsthand how these beloved sweets are crafted.

Taste tests are a highlight of the festival, offering attendees the chance to sample a variety of Chicken Bone flavors and variations. While the classic cinnamon and chocolate combination remains the star, creative twists on the original recipe, such as spicy versions or those infused with different flavors, add a fun and adventurous element to the tasting experience.

The festival also features a range of family-friendly activities that cater to candy enthusiasts of all ages. Kids can participate in candy-themed games, crafts, and competitions, while adults might enjoy the cooking workshops that incorporate Chicken Bones into various recipes, from desserts to cocktails. The festive atmosphere is further enhanced by live music, local vendors, and a vibrant parade that winds through the streets of Saint-Eustache, showcasing candy-themed floats and costumes.

Educational components of the festival include talks and panels by food historians and local experts who delve into the history and cultural significance of Chicken Bones in Quebec. These sessions offer a deeper appreciation for the candy and its place in the region’s culinary heritage.

The Great Canadian Chicken Bone Festival is a unique and joyous celebration that highlights the creativity and community spirit of Saint-Eustache. Whether you’re a fan of the candy or simply looking for a fun and quirky event, the festival promises a sweet and memorable experience. If you find yourself in Quebec during the festival, don’t miss the chance to indulge in this one-of-a-kind celebration of confectionery delight.

8. The Igloo Building Competition in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Each winter, Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, hosts an extraordinary and uniquely Canadian event: the Igloo Building Competition. Part of the larger Snowking Winter Festival, this competition invites participants to showcase their skills and creativity by constructing traditional igloos using only snow and ice. The event is a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of those who live in the Arctic environment and offers a fascinating glimpse into Indigenous building techniques.

The Igloo Building Competition draws teams from across the region, each eager to demonstrate their mastery of this ancient craft. Participants are provided with basic tools, such as saws and shovels, and must use blocks of compacted snow to construct their igloos. The competition emphasizes traditional methods, requiring builders to cut and shape the snow blocks precisely, fit them together seamlessly, and create a stable, weather-resistant structure.

Preparation and strategy are key to success in the competition. Teams often spend weeks practicing their techniques and refining their designs. On the day of the event, the atmosphere is one of friendly rivalry and community spirit, with spectators gathered to cheer on the builders and marvel at their progress. The sight of igloos taking shape, each with its unique design and construction approach, is both inspiring and educational.

The finished igloos are judged on various criteria, including structural integrity, aesthetic appeal, and adherence to traditional building methods. Awards are given for the best overall igloo, as well as for categories such as most creative design and best teamwork. The competition highlights the builders' skills and showcases the cultural significance of igloo construction in Arctic regions.

Beyond the competition, the Snowking Winter Festival offers a wide range of winter activities and entertainment. Visitors can explore the Snowking’s castle, a massive structure made entirely of snow and ice, featuring intricate carvings, ice slides, and live performances. The festival also includes ice carving contests, snow sculpture exhibitions, and family-friendly games, creating a festive and welcoming atmosphere.

The Igloo Building Competition is more than just a test of skill; it’s a celebration of Arctic heritage and community resilience. It provides an opportunity for participants and spectators alike to connect with the traditions of the North and appreciate the ingenuity required to thrive in such a challenging environment. If you’re visiting Yellowknife during the winter, the Igloo Building Competition is a must-see event that offers a unique and captivating experience.

9. The Diefenbunker Cold War Museum Spy Camp in Carp, Ontario

Located in Carp, Ontario, the Diefenbunker Cold War Museum is a fascinating relic of the Cold War era, originally built as a top-secret underground bunker to protect Canadian government officials in the event of a nuclear attack. Today, the Diefenbunker serves as a museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting Canada’s Cold War history. One of its most unique and engaging events is the annual Spy Camp, where participants, both young and old, can immerse themselves in the world of espionage.

The Spy Camp offers an interactive and educational experience, allowing participants to live out their spy fantasies in a real Cold War bunker. Camp activities are designed to teach the skills and techniques used by spies, with a focus on teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity. Participants are divided into teams and given missions that require them to navigate the labyrinthine corridors of the bunker, decode secret messages, and complete various espionage-themed challenges.

One of the highlights of the Spy Camp is the escape room challenge, where teams must work together to solve puzzles and escape from a locked room within a set time. The challenges are designed to be both fun and intellectually stimulating, encouraging participants to think critically and use their ingenuity. Other activities include lock-picking workshops, code-breaking sessions, and scavenger hunts, all set against the backdrop of the historically significant bunker.

The camp also includes educational components, with museum staff and guest experts providing insights into the history of the Cold War, the role of espionage, and the technology used by spies. Participants learn about real-life spy stories, the development of intelligence agencies, and the global political climate of the time. These sessions add depth to the experience, offering a greater understanding of the historical context in which the bunker operated.

For children, the Spy Camp offers a unique and engaging way to learn about history and develop new skills. Activities are tailored to be age-appropriate, ensuring that all participants have a safe and enjoyable experience. For adults, the camp provides a chance to relive childhood dreams of being a secret agent and explore the Diefenbunker in an interactive and memorable way.

The Diefenbunker Cold War Museum Spy Camp is a one-of-a-kind event that combines history, education, and adventure. Whether you’re a history buff, a puzzle enthusiast, or simply looking for a unique experience, the Spy Camp offers an unforgettable journey into the world of espionage. If you’re visiting Ontario, make sure to check out this intriguing and immersive event at the Diefenbunker.

10. The Giant Omelette Festival in Granby, Quebec

Inspired by a French tradition, the Giant Omelette Festival in Granby, Quebec, is a delightful celebration that brings the community together to cook and enjoy a massive omelette made from thousands of eggs. This annual event is hosted by the Confrérie de l’Omelette Géante, a brotherhood dedicated to the art of making giant omelettes. The festival is part of a worldwide network of similar events, all rooted in a legend from Bessières, France, where Napoleon’s army was once served a giant omelette by the townspeople.

The festival takes place in the heart of Granby, where a large cooking area is set up, complete with giant frying pans and an array of cooking equipment. Early in the morning, local chefs and volunteers begin cracking thousands of eggs and preparing the ingredients for the omelette. The atmosphere is filled with excitement and anticipation as the crowd gathers to watch the culinary spectacle unfold.

As the cooking begins, the chefs work in unison, mixing the eggs with butter, herbs, and other ingredients in the massive frying pans. The sight of the giant omelette taking shape is both impressive and mouth-watering. Throughout the cooking process, music, dance, and other forms of entertainment keep the crowd engaged and entertained.

One of the highlights of the festival is the participation of local dignitaries and special guests, who are invited to help stir the omelette and contribute to its preparation. This involvement of the community and local leaders adds a sense of camaraderie and fun to the event.

Once the omelette is cooked to perfection, it is served to the crowd, free of charge. Attendees line up to receive their portion of the giant omelette, which is often accompanied by fresh bread, local cheese, and other regional specialties. The communal meal is a celebration of togetherness and local culture, reflecting the festival’s motto of sharing and generosity.

In addition to the main event, the Giant Omelette Festival features a variety of activities and attractions for all ages. There are cooking demonstrations, food stalls offering local delicacies, and craft booths showcasing handmade goods. Children can enjoy games, face painting, and other fun activities, making the festival a family-friendly affair.

The Giant Omelette Festival is a unique and joyous celebration that highlights the culinary traditions and community spirit of Granby. Whether you’re a food lover, a history enthusiast, or simply looking for a fun and festive experience, the festival offers something for everyone. If you’re in Quebec during the festival, don’t miss the chance to partake in this extraordinary culinary event and enjoy a slice of the giant omelette.

Photo by Tourism Eastern Townships

Canada's eccentric festivals offer a delightful mix of humor, tradition, and community spirit. From sipping a cocktail with a real human toe in Dawson City to racing giant pumpkins in Windsor, these quirky events provide unique ways to experience the diverse and creative culture of Canada. Each festival is a testament to the local traditions and inventive spirit that make Canada such a fascinating destination.

Whether you find yourself in the frozen North building igloos, cheering on bathtub racers in British Columbia, or sampling giant omelettes in Quebec, there's no shortage of bizarre and entertaining festivals to explore. These events not only offer unforgettable experiences but also a chance to connect with the communities that host them and the stories that shape them.

So next time you're planning a trip to Canada, consider adding one of these eccentric festivals to your itinerary. They're sure to leave you with plenty of laughs, a deeper appreciation for Canadian culture, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Stay connected with more travel tips and quirky festival guides at Canada Scenic, where we celebrate the fun, the bizarre, and the truly unique aspects of traveling in the Great White North.

#CanadianFestivals #TravelCanada #QuirkyEvents #SourtoeCocktail #PumpkinRegatta #EccentricCelebrations

Jun 26, 2024
Canada Travel

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