Whether you’re celebrating Islanders Day (PEI), Louis Riel Day (Manitoba), Heritage Day (Nova Scotia), or Family Day (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick, with BC one week earlier) there’s no denying that a long weekend in February is a welcome break just when winter seems the longest.
Given that it’s February, it’s understandable if you’re tempted just to spend the day indoors, bundled up on the couch under your warmest blankets. But venture outside your front door, and you’ll discover a ton of fun and isn’t that what a long weekend is for?
Since winter won’t leave until it’s good and ready, you might as well enjoy BBQ, sledding and and sleigh rides. This 10-day event makes the best of a long Alberta winter by holding fun activities indoors (family movie night, comedy shows and family-friendly crafts) and outdoors (Frolic in the Park).
Introduce your offspring to the joys of ice-fishing! No equipment or experience? No problem. You’ll be equipped with the appropriate gear, plus hot chocolate, hot dogs and warm tents to take the chill off. Not so fond of fishing? That’s fine, there are lots of other activities on offer as well.
Located about 200 kilometres north of Saskatoon, Prince Albert National Park is just as fun-packed in the winter as it is in the summer. Check out the Waskesiu Snow Days in Waskesiu Lake and at the park’s visitors’ centre for a week’s worth of winter activities, including geocaching, winter survival techniques, skating, snowshoeing and stargazing. You can borrow gear, like skis, snowshoes, and ice fishing equipment at the nearby Hawood Inn.
If you really, really don’t feel like spending a ton of time outside, never fear —Wide Open Children’s Theatre in Saskatoon has adapted six favourite Robert Munsch stories for their puppets, and the result is an afternoon of laughs, songs and audience participation. With 30 puppets and three live actors, your kids are sure to have a Munschy-good time.
Family Day is the only day of the year the public is allowed on the ice of Wascana Lake and it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Held on East Wascana Lake and around the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina, outdoor events include outhouse races, snow cricket, and horse-drawn sleigh rides, while indoor events include magic shows, improv, drumming, face painting and a classic rock tribute band.
The largest winter festival in western Canada truly shows Winter-peg at its finest. St. Boniface, Winnipeg’s French quarter, celebrates its French, Métis and Indigenous heritage through music, traditional food and historic interpretation at Fort Gibralter. Combine that with spectacular snow sculptures, a cheddar-carving competition and the 36th annual beard-growing contest, and you’ve got a unique way to celebrate Louis Riel Day.
The Forks National Historic Site, Winnipeg
A must-see winter-specific event, Winnipeg’s ice castles are one of six North American locations showcasing spectacular LED-lit sculptures, tunnels, slides and fountains, all created entirely of ice. On Fridays and Saturdays, check out the fire performances, complete with fire breathing and flaming hula hoops. On Saturdays and Sundays, the “Enchanted Frozen Sisters” will be on hand for photos and greeting.
Louis Riel Day celebrations
Honour St. Lazare’s Métis heritage with tobogganing, bannock and a talent show featuring local dancers, singers and storytellers. Once you’re nice and warmed up, see if you can learn Barouche, a Métis card game.
These are different events, but Wasaga isn’t far from Penetanguishene, so see if you can get to both. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Penetang’s Winterama includes activities as varied as a fireworks show only visible from the town’s skate trail or along a snow-covered trail, a pancake breakfast, a polar bear plunge and an arm-wrestling competition. 40 minutes down the road to Wasaga Beach, Snowman Mania takes place largely at and around the Wasaga RecPlex. Over the weekend, check out Little Bones, a Tragically Hip tribute band, play shinny hockey, or take a family yoga class.
Visit Fort William Historic Park — the world’s largest fur-trading post — this Family Day weekend between 11 and 5 and check out their giant snow maze, tubing hills, skating and carnival games. If you want to feel your heart in your mouth, watch the snowmobile stunt show, with death-defying stunts performed over the Kaministiquia River.
Ice Carnival, Shippagan
Snow and ice sculpture contests are a big part of Shippagan’s Ice Carnival, but there’s lots else to do in this Francophone town nestled between Chaleur Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the Acadian peninsula. Watch a spectacular fireworks show, let the kids play in the bouncy castles and listen to some live music, all while practicing your French.
Campbellton, on the banks of the Restigouche River, has a rich heritage of Mi’kmaq, French and Scottish influence, dating from some of the earliest days of French settlement in Canada. Now, it celebrates that heritage — and winter generally — with Sno-Fest/Festi-Neige, a winter carnival that incorporates historic exhibits — including traditional wood carving — with winter fun like skating, hockey tournaments and snow soccer.
To truly celebrate Nova Scotia’s rich traditions and history, both the Museum of Natural History and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax are offering free admission on Heritage Day. Check out exhibits at both museums, including the Maritime Museum’s exhibit on the Halifax explosion in 1917 and Gus, the Natural History Museum’s 94-year-old gopher tortoise.
Cape Breton Island
Baddeck celebrates Heritage Day by getting active, so bundle up and enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer. Try a fun run, go ice fishing, try curling, or participate in Snow Brawl, an enormous snowball fight between parents and kids.
Olympic-themed fun on Islander Day, Summerside
Head to Summerside and celebrate Islander Day and the Olympics with sports-themed activities at Credit Union Place, including a bobsled slide, an obstacle course race and cosmic bowling. Keep an eye on the actual Olympics with a series of TVs throughout the venue.
Stuff yourself with a pancake breakfast, then build a bird-feeder, take a sleigh ride, go for a skate, then (if you’re not exhausted) check out the indoor carnival to warm up.