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The Toronto events calendar

All of the Toronto events, festivals, concerts, film series, art shows and parties you need to be at

Toronto International BuskerFest

There are plenty of big-ticket Toronto attractions and sights to keep the good times flowing all year, but some of the best things to do in Toronto are a little more fleeting. Whether you’re after one of the world’s best music festivals, a Pride city where you can get ridiculously rainbow or the perfect place to ring in Canada Day, the City below the CN Tower is here to help. Start filling your diary with your definitive guide to Toronto events, fests and all-in city-wide parties, for every season of the year. Yep, even our winter.

Spring Toronto events

Canada Blooms

Canada Blooms

A massive 10-day flower and garden show, this floral wonderland attracts hordes of local green-fingered fans desperate for a first glimpse of spring. The main attractions at Canada Blooms are the display gardens and the prize-winning flower arrangements. Right next door at the same time—and included in the same admission price—National Home Show offers ideas to brighten up the estate that are more technologically oriented and designer-inspired than natural. March, EnerCare/Direct Energy Centre, 100 Princes’ Blvd #1, Canadian National Exhibition Grounds, 416-447-8655, canadablooms.com

Photograph: Courtesy David Ohashi

Good Friday Procession

Good Friday Procession

Flagellating Roman centurions, candle-bearing worshippers and several bloodied saviours take to the streets of Little Italy for this sombre re-enactment of Christ on his way to the Crucifixion. Good Friday, College St/Little Italy.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Harvey Krausz

Images Festival of Independent Film and Video

Images Festival of Independent Film and Video

The most adventurous of Toronto’s many smaller film fests, the 10 days of the Images Festival are characterized by dazzling innovation, experimentation and a supportive community vibe. Narrative coherence isn’t always a top priority; cross-disciplinary projects certainly are. April, various venues, 416-971-8405, imagesfestival.com

Photograph: Courtesy Henry Chan Jr.

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Hot Docs International Documentary Festival

Hot Docs International Documentary Festival

North America’s biggest documentary festival, Hot Docs lasts 11 days and features more than 200 films from around the world, including world premieres of the hottest titles and retrospective series spotlighting classics of the genre. Filmmakers and doc subjects attend many screenings, lured, in part, by the parallel industry conference where doc makers can network and refine their craft. Monthly Doc Soup screenings and discussions run from October to April at the festival’s Bloor Cinema, one of the world’s only theatres primarily dedicated to documentary cinema. Mid April-early May, various venues, 416-203-2155, hotdocs.ca

Photograph: Courtesy John Barduhn

National Hockey League Playoffs

National Hockey League Playoffs

This rite of spring whips the city into a frenzy. Bars and cafés do brisk business even if the Maple Leafs are never in the running. They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, a drought that’s sated each year by plenty of beer and consternation. Despite this decades-long drought, tickets are impossible to get, except through scalpers. Mid April-mid June

Contact Photography Festival

Contact Photography Festival

This month-long festival of Canadian and international photography permeates the city, exhibiting in almost 200 galleries, bars and restaurants. With more than 1,500 photographers and artists on display, Contact is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world, featuring work that runs the gamut from pretty to pretty edgy. Photographers discuss their craft in workshops and seminars. May, various venues, 416-539-9595, contactphoto.com

Photograph: Courtesy Toni Hafkenscheid

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Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival

Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival

A social occasion as much as a cinematic experience, this popular and polished 10-day event brings out the lesbian and gay community’s arty elite with more than 200 screenings and a half dozen parties (the Local Heroes bash, on the Thursday of the festival, is usually the most ebullient). With an increasingly international perspective and a knack for show off celebrity guests, Inside Out screens everything from mainstream comedies and dramas to obscure documentaries you’ll never get the chance to see again. May-early June, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St W for screenings; parties at various venues, 416-977-6847, insideout.ca

Photograph: Courtesy John Cameron Mitchell

Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Toronto Jewish Film Festival

The largest event of its kind in North America, the long-standing 11-day Toronto Jewish Film Festival features a high quality selection of Jewish films, shorts and documentaries from around the world at venues all over the city. May, various venues, 416-324-9121, tjff.com

Victoria Day Long Weekend

Victoria Day Long Weekend

Victoria Day weekend is a national holiday and the unofficial launch of summer. Gardeners get busy, people head off to their cottages and crowds gather for firework displays, all in honour of a queen who might well have disapproved. The date recognizes the royal birthday, but also (coincidentally) the mode of celebration, the ‘two-four’, or case of 24 beers, the largest you can buy. Monday closest to 24 May, throughout the city

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Doors Open Toronto

Doors Open Toronto

Many of the 150-plus sites on this two-day tour are normally off-limits to the public, so this is a good chance for both locals and tourists to discover Toronto’s history and architecture. There are no formal tours at Doors Open: participating buildings simply hang out a welcoming blue banner (check local papers for a map). Best of all, it’s free. New and noteworthy destinations can attract major crowds; be prepared to get in line. Last weekend in May, various venues, 416-338-3888, toronto.ca/doorsopen

Photograph: Courtesy City of Toronto

Summer Toronto events

Luminato

Luminato

This ambitious and eclectic celebration of the arts sees brand-name international talent share the spotlight with provocative up-and-comers in theatre, music, dance and the visual arts. Multidiscipline experimentation is a modus operandi at Luminato—expect world premieres of serious work and surprising collaborations. Many events are ticketed, so it pays to plan ahead. Early June, various venues, 416-368-3100, luminato.com

North by Northeast

North by Northeast

The sounds of independent music, the kind unfettered by those big record-label contract obligations, tear up the city centre during this popular five-day event. Hundreds of thousands of music fans prowl dozens of stages, catching talent from Canada, the U.S. and around the world. You can bet the musicians treat the whole thing as an audition for the ears of all those record-company execs who trawl the festival in search of the next big sound. Like its sister festival, South by Southwest, film, art and parties are increasingly important ingredients of the NXNE experience. Early June, various venues, 416-863-6963, www.nxne.com

Waterfront Festival Toronto

Waterfront Festival Toronto

Taking full advantage of the city’s newly refurbished waterfront along Queens Quay, the weekend-long Waterfront Festival drops food vendors, art installations and performers into three seaside parks, sometimes to the befuddlement of unsuspecting joggers and sun seekers. Expect pirate skits and other assorted clowns. Every three years (2016, 2019, 2021), the event welcomes a fleet of Tall Ships quayside. Mid June, various venues, Central Waterfront, 416-246-0474, towaterfrontfest.com

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Honda Indy Toronto

Honda Indy Toronto

Drivers burn rubber through 11 turns around Exhibition Place in IndyCar’s second-longest running street race. Expect lots of testosterone-driven music and street parties. From afar, the revving sounds like a swarm of bees. Mid June, Exhibition Place, Lake Shore Blvd W, between Strachan Ave and Dufferin St, Waterfront, 877-725-8849, hondaindytoronto.com

Pride Toronto

Pride Toronto

What started out as a small political picnic in 1970 has turned into a brash commercial success that lasts 10 days—some would argue that it lasts all month—and is now more of an arts festival than a protest. There are beer gardens and entertainment on several stages in Church and Wellesley throughout the main Pride weekend—everything from house to alterna-queer to lesbian folk—and many ancillary parties from promoters like Prism. Late-night events are adult-oriented, but the big parade itself (always on the last Sunday in June) is increasingly family-friendly, with as many as a million people ogling the drag queens and muscle boys and cheering the activists and politicians. The parade is long, the weather hot and the crowds enormous—so bring water. The smaller Dyke March takes place on the Saturday afternoon, the Trans March on the Friday evening of the main weekend. Late June, various venues, 416-927-7433, pridetoronto.com

Queen’s Plate

Queen’s Plate

Three-year-old Canadian-bred thoroughbreds compete in the country’s oldest horse races at Woodbine Race Track. Royalty—or at least their stand-ins—usually put in an appearance at the Queen’s Plate. Late June, Woodbine Race Track, 555 Rexdale Blvd, at Highway 427, 416-675-7223, queensplate.com

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Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival

Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival

The colourful dragon boats are the centrepiece of this Chinese festival, which takes place over a weekend. With food, games, music and dance, the Dragon Boat Race Festival attracts more than 100,000 people to the sylvan shores of the Toronto Islands. Across the water from the city, they offer a cool respite from the heat. Late June, Centre Island, the Toronto Islands, 416-595-1739, dragonboats.com

Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival

Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival

During this 12-day fest, more than 1,500 artists perform all styles of jazz at dozens of clubs, theatres and outdoor stages throughout the downtown area. Some events at the Downtown Jazz Festival are ticketed, but Nathan Phillips Square, in front of City Hall, hosts free shows every day. Late June–early July, various venues, 416-928-2033, tojazz.com

Summer Solstice Festival

Summer Solstice Festival

Celebrating the longest day of the year is a fine excuse to visit this artsy gem of a neighbourhood on Toronto’s west side. At the Summer Solstice Festival DIYers peddle the fruits of their labours or, better yet, conduct workshops helping attendees create their own masterpieces. If performance art and indie rockers aren’t your thing, ride the Ferris wheel for a bird’s eye view of the hubbub. June 20, noon to midnight, various venues on Dundas St W between Indian Grove and Quebec Ave, 416-767-9068, thejunctionsummersolstice.com

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Canada Day

Canada Day

Torontonians celebrate Canada’s birthday (July 1, 1867) with a Canadian mixture of deference and pride, usually by leaving town for the long weekend. Best bets for fun are Nathan Phillips Square, Mel Lastman Square, Harbourfront Centre and Downsview Park; most events feature Canuck entertainers and night-time fireworks displays. The Harbourfront festivities have the added bonus of a lake view and a cool breeze. July 1, throughout the city, toronto.ca/special_events

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Autumn Toronto events

Cabbagetown Festival

Cabbagetown Festival

A tribute to a working-class neighbourhood turned affluent enclave, the weekend-long Cabbagetown Festival fest offers corn roasts, street dances, pancake breakfasts, an arts and crafts fair, a parade and tours of some of the neighbourhood’s unique bay and gable houses. Bargain hunters scour the many yard sales for possible antiques lurking amongst the cassette tapes and assorted bric-a-brac. Early September, various locations around Carlton and Parliament Sts, Cabbagetown, 416-921-0857, cabbagetownto.com

Hot and Spicy Food Festival

Hot and Spicy Food Festival

In a city known for its wide-ranging culinary offerings, this weekend-long festival celebrates dishes that will make your tongue stand up and pay attention. Pick up some unorthodox ingredients at the international market and then take a workshop to learn how to concoct your own spice bombs. Cooking demonstrations and musical performances take place throughout the Hot and Spicy Food Festival weekend. Early September, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W, Central Waterfront, 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto International Film Festival

This ten-day film orgy now rivals Cannes and Sundance for PR power, and that means loads of celebrities and miles of celluloid—the Toronto International Film Festival offers everything from Hollywood blockbusters to obscure Eastern European angst-fests. Even work-obsessed Torontonians take time off for this one. Diehard celebrity spotters hang out in hotel lobbies hoping to catch a glimpse of fame. Public screenings start at 9am, and go past midnight at some venues. With 300-plus features showing, there’s always something to see, but popular items sell out quickly. The complete schedule doesn’t usually appear until late August, but avid fans start buying passes and tickets in mid July. Early September, various venues, 416-967-7371, torontointernationalfilmfestival.ca

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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition

With more than 350 artists, the largest outdoor art exhibition in Canada casts a very wide net, so there’s plenty to gaze upon at this free weekend-long expo. That includes the throngs of art lovers who show up at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition to chat with the creators, who range from students to established artists. Mid September, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St W, at Bay St, Bay Street Corridor, 416-408-2754, torontooutdoorart.org

Word on the Street

Word on the Street

Booklovers sharpen their elbows in the hunt for bargains at this Sunday celebration of literacy. Mainstream and niche publishers offer deep discounts, some getting deeper as the day progresses. More relaxing are the pavilions and stages at Word on the Street presenting writers reading, signing and discussing their works. Kids get their own special tent. Late September, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W, Central Waterfront, 416-658-3144, thewordonthestreet.ca

Photograph: Courtesy Kent Robinson

Toronto Food and Wine Festival

Toronto Food and Wine Festival

Celebrity chefs reveal their secrets—or plug their new book or show—at presentations throughout this weekend-long celebration of gourmandizing. Attendees at Toronto Food and Wine who’d rather taste than listen can wander among dozens of booths offering samples and meal ideas. Mid September, Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Ave, Don Valley, 416-960-4502, torontofoodandwine.com

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Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche

Torontonians are hooked on staying up all night to wander among fanciful art installations in parks, swimming pools, car washes and art galleries during this free 12-hour art party. Patterned after—and scheduled to coincide with—other ‘white nights’ in Paris, among other cities, Nuit Blanche attracts more than a million bleary-eyed revellers with the work of more than 400 artists, some of it awesomely large scale. First Sat in October, various venues throughout downtown, 416-395-0490, scotiabanknuitblanche.ca

Photograph: Courtesy City of Toronto

International Festival of Authors

International Festival of Authors

From the four corners of the world they come, trailing their Bookers, Pulitzers and Nobels–novelists, poets and biographers from the top tiers of the literary firmament. The 11-day International Festival of Authors started in 1980 and quickly became a prestigious affair, but despite the glitter factor, the readings, talks and on-stage interviews have remained surprisingly intimate. The venues are usually the Harbourfront Centre’s Premiere Dance Theatre and York Quay Centre, but check nearer the time. If you can’t make it to the big event, there are other readings at Harbourfront, generally on Wednesday nights, from September to December, and February to June. Late October, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W, Central Waterfront, 416-973-4000, ifoa.org

Photograph: Courtesy IFOA/Tom Bilenkey

Art Toronto

Art Toronto

It’s not Basel or Venice but this four-day art binge has become a must-see national event dedicated to the contemporary art scene. Lectures, panels and curated projects supplement the 100-odd booths featuring a broad range of galleries from across the country. Smaller independent art shows and festivals often pop up around downtown during the week of Art Toronto to take advantage of the buzz. Late October-early November, North Building, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front St W, at John St, Entertainment District, 800-663-4173, arttoronto.ca

Photograph: Courtesy Arash Moallemi

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Santa Claus Parade

Santa Claus Parade

Started more than a century ago as a publicity stunt for a local department store, the Santa Claus Parade is now a Toronto institution. More than 500,000 people—mostly parents with kids on their shoulders—watch dozens of floats, storybook characters, marching bands and, of course, Santa and his sleigh, as they parade through the city centre. Late November, Bloor St and University Ave, Entertainment and Financial Districts, 416-249-7833, thesantaclausparade.com

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Winter Toronto events

Next Stage Theatre Festival

Next Stage Theatre Festival

Brought to you by the people who put on the Toronto Fringe, the 12-day Next Stage Theatre Festival showcases 10 works by emerging and mid-career theatre artists. The plays are selected by a jury, so there’s less risk of enduring a clunker than at the Fringe itself. Bring a warm coat if you intend to socialize in the beer tent before or after shows—it can get nippy in there. Early January, Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St, Fashion District, 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival

Photograph: Courtesy Jamie Johnston

World Stage

World Stage

The annual World Stage festival of theatre and dance showcases troupes from across the country and around the world. The programming can be edgy and experimental, but it’s guaranteed to ignite conversations. The artistic director has a soft spot for shows that mix dance, theatre, video and other media. January–June, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay W, Central Waterfront, 416-973-4000, harbourfrontcentre.com/worldstage

Winterlicious

Winterlicious

Toronto in the depths of winter can be harsh. Hence this city-sponsored attempt to make a cold month more appetizing. A wide array of restaurants, some of them typically in the bank-breaking category, offer prix fixe menus at palatable discounts during Winterlicious. Late January–early February, various venues, 416-338-0338, toronto.ca/special_events

Photograph: Courtesy City of Toronto

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