Chinook Blast is back, and with little hyperbole involved, bigger and better than ever.
The festival of all things arts, culture, and sports during Calgary’s winter months is in full form for 2023.
For the visitors heading Downtown in late January through February, organizers have promised that this is the year that Chinook Blast will be as it was originally intended to be when it was envisioned in 2019 pre-pandemic.
“I am snow excited about coming back this year,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.
“I’m really excited for Calgarians to be able to take in the entire Chinook Blast experience this year. It has been reduced in the past couple of years, but we are out in full force.”
More than 200 events will be taking place throughout the Downtown Core and East Village, from 60 different Chinook Blast partners. Among those are Calgary mainstays like One Yellow Rabbit with the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary Folk Music Festival with Block Heater, and Arts Commons and Sport Calgary for their sports and entertainment takeover of Olympic Plaza.
Returning festivals and events which are back in full include the Ethnik Festival and its celebration of the best of Black and Afro-Canadian culture, The Great Canadian Kilt Skate celebrating Scottish culture, The Exposure Festival of photography, art and light installations throughout the downtown, and dozens of events at the Calgary Public Library and Fort Calgary.
New partner events this year include YYC Hacks Hackathon at the Platform Innovation Centre, the MakeFashion x Indi City Powwow fashion runway at the Calgary Public Library, and Drag on Ice—a first for the province as drag queens and kings trade in high heels for skates.
“The festival is a great example of our winter city strategy in action as Chinook Blast helps extend Calgary’s festival and event season and provides opportunities for Calgarians to be more active and more creative more often,” said Mayor Gondek.
Something for everyone
The lineup this year is also more diverse, with expanded cultural offerings from Indigenous groups, Calgary’s Chinatown and Asian communities, and the Black and Afro-Canadian communities.
“It’s meant for all Calgarians, not just some Calgarians, and that’s what makes Chinook Blast the kind of celebration that this city deserves,” said Patti Pon, CEO of Calgary Arts Development and Chair of the Chinook Blast executive committee.
“We are Canada’s third most diverse city, and Chinook Blast is a festival of arts and aulture and sport that absolutely demonstrates that you will see Calgary.”
She said that the festival over the past two years has been a real way for local artists to continue to create and display throughout the pandemic.
In 2022, the festival supported over 85 artists and makers financially and artistically.
This year, said Pon, 28 different local arts organizations are going to be able to put on performances and displays as a result of Chinook Blast funding.
“Everything from Indigenous storytelling at Fort Calgary to Lunar New Year celebrations with the Chinese Cultural Center and Korean Social Services Center, to springboard performances at Container in Sunnyside,” she said.
“It’s exciting to see the breadth of organizations participating, and in particular, of the many things that we love about Chinook Blast at Calvary Arts Development.”
Ethnik Festival founder Lanre Ajayi said that “we’re so thrilled to be back in person because that is the best way to experience and enjoy the best of all we have to offer.”
“We’re very intentional in the lineup of the content we’re creating. We have this philosophy that when you throw a party, you throw a party to invite your friends. It is a festival by us for all, even though it’s Black History Month event, we don’t celebrate in isolation.”
“We bring in activities and performances from not only from the African community, or from an Indigenous community, but from Asia, from Europeans… they all have spirit, and they have a space and a spot on our stage to perform.”
He said that the $25 price for a two-day ticket for the Ethnik Festival, which is taking place at the end of February at the Telus Convention Centre, was designed to increase accessibility through affordability.
Chinook Blast itself is offering a significant amount of free programming in addition to some paid programming. All of the programming taking place at Olympic Plaza and the RISE UP outdoor stage this year will be free.
$8.2 million in economic benefits last year
Last year’s festival brought more than 410,000 visitors to the downtown and generated $8.2 million in economic benefits for the city.
Chinook Blast Executive Director Franca Gualtieri said that Tourism Calgary was expecting an even greater economic impact for this year, but wasn’t ready to yet predict what sort of numbers of attendees to expect this year or next.
“It was all local, which was wonderful, but we are looking for tacking on even more,” she said.
“We’ve made announcements already for the 2024 lineup, which are going to include the Scotties Tournament of Hearts as well as the Special Olympics, which is gonna bring in a whole bunch of visitors to our city.”
She said that the addition of larger events this year, like the Nitro Rally Cross motorsport at Stampede Park, was one of the new draws that would likely bring in visitors from outside of the city.
Chinook Blast Events
Throughout Chinook Blast
- The Exposure Photography Festival runs for the entire length of Chinook Blast at Olympic Plaza, presenting the visual works of photographers from Treaty 6 and 7.
- Four Winds YYC and 10 at 10 will be presenting Indigenous culture and Black History Month performances and celebrations every lunch hour on Thursdays and Fridays.
- One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo runs from January 16 through to February 5, and features theatre, music, dance, and multidisciplinary art. For more details, see www.hprodeo.ca.
- BIG Winter Classic is back for it’s 7th year, featuring headliners such as Shame, A. Savage, Ron Gallo, and Status/Non Status. The festival runs in Calgary’s Beltline from January 25 through 29. More details available at www.bigwinterclassic.com/big-2023-lineup.
- Calgary Public Library is putting on a month of programming and events at the Central Library, beginning on January 27 and running to February 12.
- Olympic Plaza, RISE UP outdoor community stage is back this year with an opening night concert on January 27 with musicans Sunglaciers, K-Ritz, and the Roberts Band.
- Four Winds Indigenous Showcase and Market is connecting Indigenous music, dance, culture, and commerce on January 27 to 29 from 5-9 pm, featuring classic rock artist Armond Duckchief, Drezus, and Juno award winner Fawn Wood.
- Sport Calgary at Olympic Plaza is back with a second edition of weekend sporting demonstrations at Olympic Plaza with speed skating, synchronized skating, and other ice sports.
- Contemporary Teens: Who Is Your Superhero, at Contemporary Calgary, is helping teens aged 12-18 explore art through programs that connect them to community and global social issues. Programs run on January 28. For more details see www.contemporarycalgary.com/whats-on/contemporary-teens-who-is-your-superhero-jan-28.
- Rock the Nation at the National Music Centre is celebrating 50 years of Canadian music, with matinee performances of Rock the Nation every Saturday and Sunday at Studio Bell starting on January 28 and running until March 5. For more details see www.studiobell.ca/whats-on/event/rock-the-nation.
- A Lantern Parade is being held on February 3, to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The Asian Heritage Foundation and One Yellow Rabbit are inviting participants to make lanterns from 4:30 pm to 6 pm at the City Hall Atrium, and then join the parade at 6 pm.
- MakeFashion x Indi City Powwow Runway is a collaboration that connects technology and regalia on the runway at the Central Library, on February 3 from 4 to 6 pm.
- YYCHacks Chinook Blast Winter Edition Hackathon is bringing back Calgary’s biggest hackathon, inviting participants to use software development to activate and engage Calgary as a winter city destination. The hackathon runs from February 3 through 5 at Platform Calgary. For more details on participating, and on prizes, see www.yychacks.ca.
- Chinook Blast’s Asian Nightmarket is returning this year to the municipal atrium at the Calgary City Hall municipal complex from February 3 through 5.
- Arts Commons is brining ArtsXpeditions outdoor concerts on February 4 and 5 to Olympic Plaza in a takeover that features Juno award winning musicians, alongside presenting the YYC Music Awards Spotlight Festival on the Sunday.
- A mini shred course is coming to Olympic Plaza on February 4 and 5, where certified coaches will pull children aged 3 through 10 through a shred park on snowboards with handles.
- Nitro Rallycross is coming to the Calgary Stampede for an adrenaline packed, fast racing, high flying, electric powered rally cross race featuring some of the world’s best drivers. The event takes place at GMC Stadium from February 4-5, and for more details see LiveWire Calgary’s previous coverage and www.nitrorallycross.com.
- Market Collective is bringing their night market to the Calgary City Hall municipal complex atrium, showcasing products from local artists from February 10 through 12.
- YYC Princess presented by Dairy Farmers of Canada will taking to the Olympic Plaza stage on February 11 at 11 am and 12 pm. Wearing a ballgown is optional, but encouraged to take part in the fun.
- Drag on Ice is an Alberta first, that has Drag Queens and Kings trade in their high heels for skates for a two-hour drag performance on ice at Olympic Plaza, on February 11.
- Snow Rodeo is bringing the FIS Snowboard Slopestyle and Halfpipe World Cups to WinSport’s XL park from February 6 through 12, with Halfpipe finals on February 11, and Slopestyle finals on February 12. For more details, see www.shredthenorth.ca/en/events/snow-rodeo.
- The Great Canadian Kilt Skate is back after a two year hiatus on February 12 at Olympic Plaza, featuring Scottish culture, bagpipes, highland dancers, and of course skating.
- Block Heater, from the Calgary Folk Music Festival, is back for its 8th year, featuring independent artists like Amy Nelson, CELL7, The Deep Dark Woods, Sister Ray, and Zenon+. The festival runs from February 9 through 12 at venues across the city. For more details and a full schedule of performances, see www.calgaryfolkfest.com/blockheater.
- Ethnik Festival is back for Chinook Blast 2023, after the pandemic turned the festival online only last year. The festival will be collaborating with the Chinook Blast Hub, bringing Afro-Canadian and Caribbean cultural experiences to Olympic Plaza, and then during their main festival on February 24 and 25. For more, see ethnikfestivals.com.
A full listing of events for Chinook Blast is available at chinookblast.ca