Stuart Forster attends the annual Calgary Lilac Festival on 4th Street in the most populous city of Alberta, Canada.
When it comes to traditional costumes and Canada my first thought is of the red serge tunics and broad-brimmed hats of Mounties, members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On the fringes of the Lilac Festival, in Calgary, I met people of Peruvian and Hungarian origin in national dress.
Disclosure: Some of the links below and banners are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Wandering through Central Memorial Park, Calgary’s oldest public park, I chatted with members of the Mazovia Polish dance group. A few metres away, members of a Chinese community group laughed together and snapped photos using their phones.
The costumes emphasised the ethnic diversity of the peoples who settled the prairies and urban areas of Alberta.
Confederation, the act of political union that is regarded as the birth of modern Canada, is formally known as the British North America Act of 1867. Clearly, many immigrants came from elsewhere in Europe and beyond to an already inhabited land.
Police officers in Stetsons
At the corner of the park, a couple of police officers stood on crowd control duty.
Normally my eyes would be drawn to the bright yellow of their high-visibility vests. But it was their black Stetsons and shades that made me do a double take. With pistols holstered at their hips, they reminded me that Alberta is a province that continues to embrace its Western heritage.
That is celebrated each July, during the Calgary Stampede, when rodeos and chuck wagon racing are held at the city’s Stampede Park. Among the thousands of people on 4th Street during the Lilac Festival, I ran into three members of the Calgary Stampede Royalty.
Wearing white Stetsons, flowered shirts and cowboy boots, they explained their duties as members of Stampede Royalty as we strolled along the street.
Spotting a group of police officers, also in Stetsons, I set up a photo on a street corner.
Calgary Food trucks
Like many Canadian cities, Calgary has a vibrant food truck scene.
The trucks prove popular because they allow chefs to keep overheads to a minimum and focus on their strengths.
Download the Street Food App to check where trucks will be parked and what type of cuisine they serve.
I was drawn to one of the many food trucks parked along 4th Street and purchased a brisket sandwich.
I’d just finished licking the last remnants of hot sauce from my hand when I ran into the ladies from Dance Through Life. They run adult dance and fitness classes. We chatted about line dancing, something I was keen to experience while in Calgary, and they suggested Cowboys Dance Hall.
Buskers and live music
Meanwhile, a young lad was playing the violin across the street, drawing people to listen and utter compliments.
Buskers and musicians perform on stages along the length of 4th Street during the Lilac Festival. It’s easy to wander between them, pausing for snippets of live entertainment between viewing stalls.
I stopped to look at the retro-style merchandise at the Rocky Mountain Vintage stall. Sam, its director, explained that he licensed images of the iconic railway posters designed to draw people to Canada’s West. He sells them on T-shirts.
Politicians use the Lilac Festival to meet people. Newspapers distribute copies of their publications at the annual event. I attended on a sunny day that resulted in Calgary’s Lilac Festival drawing a mixture of families, couples and groups of friends.
The Lilac Festival on 4th Street provided my first impressions of being out and about in Calgary. I also enjoyed seeing more of the city over the days that followed.
4th Street Lilac Festival
The Lilac Festival is held on 4th Street Southwest, between Elbow Drive and 13th Avenue. It takes place within easy walking distance of Calgary’s pedestrianised downtown shopping area, Stephen Avenue Walk.
The event marks the beginning of Calgary’s festival season. Typically it draws in excess of 100,000 visitors. The 2023 Lilac Festival is scheduled for Sunday 4th June.
The festival features a parade, at 10.00 am. Musicians perform on six stages throughout the day. One of the aims of the festival is to promote emerging talent.
Around 500 businesses showcase and sell wares from streetside stalls. Participants include local craftspeople and food trucks.
4th Street SouthWest
The map below shows the area where Calgary’s Lilac Festival is held:
Travel to Calgary, ALberta
I flew with Air Transat direct from London Gatwick to Calgary International Airport.
Air Transat’s Option Plus provided priority check-in, with a dedicated counter and a supplementary checked baggage allowance. Additionally, Option Plus brought seat selection, priority boarding and perks for onboard comfort, including a comfort kit with a blanket and sleeping mask, plus headphones for in-flight entertainment.
Canadian Affair (tel. 0203 424 6316) has been arranging holidays in Canada since 1995.
Hotels in Calgary
For more information about things to do and see in Calgary, take a look at the Visit Calgary website.
For ideas about things to do in the surrounding region and further afield, check out the Travel Alberta and Destination Canada websites.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about the Calgary Lilac Festival on 4th Street. You may also enjoy this post about exploring Calgary by bicycle and on foot.
Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is a travel writer who specialises in writing about Canada. His work has been published by the likes of Rough Guides, Wanderlust and Love Exploring.
Photos illustrating this post are by Why Eye Photography.
If you enjoyed this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts on a monthly basis.
‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.
A version of this post was initially published on Go Eat Do on 11 June 2017.
Andrew BainesJune 18, 2017 at 22:24
Loved being in Calgary during a self-drive vacation. Wish we had more time to explore the Badlands near to Drumheller.
Stuart ForsterJune 19, 2017 at 09:03
I visited the Badlands from Calgary and was very impressed by the landscapes.
Enda O'ConnorJune 24, 2017 at 13:49
We visited the Lilac Festival and had a ball. We loved the live music & street food.
Karen Burns-BoothJuly 1, 2017 at 13:56
A wonderful piece Stuart and I loved following your adventures in Calgary on Instagram and Twitter too! That is on my list for a visit, as I’ve not been to Alberta yet! Karen
Stuart ForsterJuly 2, 2017 at 17:14
I can heartily recommend it. Thanks for your feedback. You’ll love the food scene in Calgary, there are some lovely places to dine.
Heather CowperJuly 2, 2017 at 08:57
Fab fun things to do with a local flavour, what fun in Calgary!
Stuart ForsterJuly 2, 2017 at 17:09
Absolutely, Heather. Walking up and down the street was a lot of fun.