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Best of the Fests

Tulips bloom during the Canadian Tulip Festival. (Photo: Ottawa Tourism)

Ottawa buzzes with excitement as festival season kicks into high gear. From performing arts to cultural celebrations — and everything in between — here are just a few top picks for May and June.

May 4 to 21
Enjoy the stunning landscape, decorated with millions of tulips, in honour of this annual festival, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2012. As always, Major’s Hill Park, Commissioners Park, and other areas around town will showcase the colourful blooms. This year’s festival programming will be moving into various neighbourhoods for community activities and celebrations. Popular programming that celebrates the theme of international friendship will be offered and includes dance, music, cuisine, and arts from diverse cultural communities, as well as interactive activities for families from galleries and museums.
Various locations.

May 30 to June 3
Children — and those young at heart — will delight in the fantastical shows on offer at this annual fest. Award-winning artists from around the globe bring their acts to town for five days of performing arts. Performances include 2 Dimensional Life of Her, a performance made of drawing, animation, puppetry, projection, and paper; Black Violin, a slick combination of classical and hip-hop music; Head à Tête, a play about two strangers, one French, one English; and plenty more exciting shows. There will also be family activities at the fairgrounds before and after the performances.
Lebreton Flats Park and the Canadian War Museum. Tickets: $12.50; three-show pack: $30.

The Hidden Cameras

The Hidden Cameras hit the Westfest stage on June 8 (Photo: Norman Wong)

June 8 to 10
It’s an all out street party at Westfest! This annual neighbourhood event sees Westboro Village become a hub for arts and culture for 10 city blocks, highlighting performing arts as well as literature, visual arts, and spoken word, with a special focus on Ottawa talent (there’s plenty of it!). Some noteworthy elements for this year include headlining musical acts The Hidden Cameras (June 8, providing tunes for a dance party), Steven Page, formerly of the Barenaked Ladies (June 9), and The Cooper Brothers (June 10). Sunday is also “Ottawa Day” when local performers strut their stuff. Check out teenage band Riot Police and the 100-person gospel choir the Ottawa Big Soul Project. Not confined to the stage, this fest serves up activities for the family with On the Street programming, which includes roaming performers, games, and plenty more.
Richmond Road. Free admission.

June 9 to 16
This festival is a snapshot of the country’s rich and diverse culture and stories, expressed through the medium of dance. This year’s event emphasizes the range and scope of works being produced today by Canadian dance-makers, from festival favourites to emerging creative voices. Expect to see pieces that blend the traditional with the experimental, and those that explore regional perspectives of Canadian contemporary dance. Performances include Raven Spirit Dance’s “Gathering Light,” which challenges the notions of privilege and power, and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers’ “97 Positions of the Heart,” based on a novel by a Canadian writer.
Various locations. Tickets: $15-$45.

June 21 to 24
Held in conjunction with National Aboriginal Day on June 21, this arts fest represents the cultural diversity of the urban Aboriginal community, with participation by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit organizations and artists. Along with an educational component, there’s also a ton of entertainment to be had. The headlining act for 2012 is Canadian country music artist Crystal Shawanda. There will also be an Aboriginal Canada “We Got Talent” competition, War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations, and a Competition Pow Wow with hundreds of drummers and dancers.
Vincent Massey Park. Free admission, donations appreciated.

Esperanza Spalding plays the Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 27. (Photo: Carlos Pericas)

June 21 to July 1
This summer fest is one of Ottawa’s top music events, drawing scores of jazz fans for the jam-packed roster of musicians. Noteworthy this year is the festival’s first artist-in-residence, Dave Holland, a celebrated bassist (and seminal figure in post-1960s jazz) who will be playing several shows. With more than 120 concerts lined up, you can also catch Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue, Allen Toussaint, and even film star Steve Martin, backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers.
Main stage at Confederation Park and various other venues. Tickets: $20-$72; passes: $79-$299.

June 22 to 24
North America’s largest dragon boat festival showcases feats of great athleticism as nearly 200 teams go head to head. Each team consists of 20 paddlers (plus a drummer and steersperson) who move as one efficient machine over the water, taking part in a Chinese cultural tradition that dates back 2,400 years. Even if you’re not participating in a race, come out to cheer on the teams and take in some exciting live entertainment, such as the Paddling Puppeteers, circus performers, clown acts, and more. There will also be multicultural food and a beer garden on site.
Mooney’s Bay Beach. Free admission.

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