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Must-see Festivals in the South Slave

Northern Lights displayed above the silhouette of trees in Wood Buffalo National Park during the Dark Sky Festival

Must-See Festivals in the South Slave

Epic beach parties. Cosmic discoveries. Choose-your-own-paddle adventures. Days and nights of music. South Slave communities sure make the most of their summers by getting together and basking in what makes their home so special.

The best part? These welcoming towns want to share the fun with you.


People dancing on a sandy beach while a concert plays on a stage behind them at the Hay Days Festival Hay River

Hay Days Festival

All of Hay River is a canvas during its annual Hay Days Festival in early July.

This five-day celebration of the creative spirit features workshops hosted by local artists along with a popular art battle in the heart of downtown. Music fills the air day and night, with performances by local and visiting acts held in venues all over town—from the Legion, to outdoor stages downtown and in the historic Old Town.

Hay Days culminates on Saturday with an all-day beach party and its famous Saturday Night Shaker. There are piles of food, cold drinks and dancing long after the sun (kind of) goes down. In 2019, up-and-coming Canadian country artist Garrett Gregory is scheduled to perform.

Photo: Scott Cloutier/Hay Days Festival

People standing in a crowd on the shore of Slave River, getting ready to race their inflatable tubes at the Slave River Paddlefest in Fort Smith NWT

Slave River Paddlefest

Hop on a giant, inflatable pink unicorn and go for a ride. See if you can master the bucking and kicking white-water during a kayak rodeo. Awaken your inner knight in a jousting competition—on a stand-up paddleboard.

Pretty much anything goes at Fort Smith’s Slave River Paddlefest, as long as it encourages fun on the water.

Paddlers from across the NWT and Canada have the long weekend in August marked off on their calendars all year in anticipation of four fun-filled days of races, games and water-inspired weirdness at the Slave River Rapids—the white-water mecca of the NWT.

You don’t need to be an expert kayaker to enjoy Paddlefest. There are activities designed to maximize the fun for any experience level—from pool toy races and raft rides to kayak surf competitions in the legendary rapids. And if you don’t feel like getting wet, enjoy the beach party atmosphere and the large, communal meals.

But really, who wouldn’t want to float down a river on a giant pink unicorn on a hot summer day?

Photo: Charles Blyth

Three people playing music on stage, playing a violin, electric guitar and drums at the Gateway Jamboree

Enterprise Gateway Jamboree

The Hamlet of Enterprise will double or triple in size during the Gateway Jamboree, a weekend packed with live music, food and fun, held in early August. Kick out the jams on Friday night to the live music in the beer garden on the local ball diamond. Follow that up with a Saturday jam-packed with activities for the whole family. In past years, this has included everything from face-painting for kids, door prizes, arts and crafts sales and even an Exquisite Corpse writing project for ambitious writers. The Jamboree caps off on Sunday with a community bingo and brunch.

If you’re passing through Enterprise—the first stop for many visitors driving into the Northwest Territories—or if you plan to check out nearby Twin Falls Gorge Territorial Park that weekend, drop in and check out the Gateway Jamboree in Enterprise. You’ll find out why locals call their home the “Handshake to the North.”

Photo: Marilyn Marshall



Three people standing on the road looking up at the sky in awe at the northern lights at Dark Sky Festival in Wood Buffalo National Park, NWT

Dark Sky Festival  

In late August, darkness returns to NWT nights and stargazers and burgeoning rocket scientists flock to Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park for a four-day extravaganza dedicated to exploring the cosmos.

Canada’s largest national park doubles as the world’s largest dark-sky preserve, a designation given to an area where artificial light is restricted. Every year, the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival takes full advantage of the unimpeded views of the stars. Space-lovers can look for their favourite planets or stars through telescopes set up by the local astronomical society. If your knowledge of the universe is limited, there are helpful people to point out the constellations.

But this festival isn’t restricted to night owls. The festival is loaded with engaging activities for the young and old alike, from nature hikes and rocket-building workshops (and launches!) to night-sky photography tutorials and can’t-miss lectures from expert guest speakers. The 2019 festival ran from August 22 to 25 and featured talks from Bob McDonald, the host of CBC Radio’s long-running science program Quirks & Quarks, and Wilfred “The Star Guy” Buck, a First Nations star historian who introduced attendees to the Cree constellations.

The sky is no limit at the Thebacha and Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival.

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