Arts and culture festivals could sadly be following the woolly mammoth trajectory — once prominent across Canada, but slowly on their way to extinction. 

Driving the news: The shockingly sudden cancellation of this year’s Just for Laughs comedy festivals in Montréal and Toronto has brought to light the dire state of the business of festivals in Canada. Everything from music fests to theatre fests are struggling.

Major cities have seen long-standing festivals either cancelled or pushed to the brink: 

  • In Toronto, the president of the world-renowned documentary film festival Hot Docs just said this year could be its last unless it gets more financial support. The Toronto Fringe Festival has been forced to cut the number of performances for this year.

  • In Vancouver, the future of the long-running Vancouver Folk Music Festival is in peril after nearly being cancelled last year. Meowfest, Canada’s largest cat festival, sadly lost one of its nine lives this year, as organizers look to stage a “purrfect comeback.”  

Zoom out: Food fests are also dropping off left, right, and centre as organizers and vendors contend with high food and labour costs. In the past year, Toronto’s Taste of the Danforth, Saskatoon’s Ribfest, and Winnipeg’s food-truck-centric ManyFest were all cancelled. 

Why it’s happening: Festivals have faced a brutal one-two punch of a slow post-pandemic attendance rebound and increased competition for a dwindling pool of government money. 

  • The base budgets for the federal programs administrating cultural loans have stayed stagnant at a combined $50.2 million for over 15 years.

  • Meanwhile, an initiative that injected an extra $15 million per year into the programs in 2019 is ending in 2026. 

Why it matters: The struggles facing festivals are the same ones facing other culture and event industries like the theatrefilm, and restaurant sectors — all of which give us fun things to do and can help drive tourism. However, their pleas for more support could fall flat as both federal and provincial governments aim to seriously slash spending.—QH