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Barrie Winterfest: Ontario’s Top Winter Celebration

Just an hour drive north of Toronto, you find the beautiful city of Barrie, Ontario, perched on the scenic western shore of Lake Simcoe. Regardless of season or reason for visiting the Barrie area, you're going to encounter activities, events, and destinations that are great for all ages. This city of 130,000 people is unique because of its blend of natural beauty and its vibrant city environment. From skiing and dog sledding during the winter to boating and SCUBA diving during the summer, every fun outdoor activity has a home here. If you're looking for more of a laid back experience then try visiting the local shops, museums, restaurants and entertainment venues. The populace of Barrie is a friendly and festive bunch that loves to celebrate, no matter the season, and this really shows during their big events. Each season has a premier event in Barrie, and every February you’ll find the residents outdoors and celebrating winter during Barrie Winterfest.


Entering its 26th year, Barrie Winterfest is a widely known and award winning festival that brings people into Barrie from all over Ontario and beyond. This is the ideal event to celebrate winter with their large amount of outdoor activities, delicious food, live entertainment and much more. Winterfest is an event for families and patrons of all ages. You’ll find things to do such as wagon rides, helicopter rides, tube slides, ice mazes, mini golf and much more. For live entertainment look no further than the polar bear dip, lumberjack shows, Nordic ski demonstrations, fire and light performers. Kids will especially enjoy an appearance by Doo Doo the Clown, Please and Thanks Children's Hip Hop and Music by Jake, and even live puppet shows and sing-a-longs. Aside from the fun, you’ll find a wide range of refreshments, tasty treats, festival fare and traditional Canadian food. Make your next winter getaway one your family will never forget and head to Barrie for their Winterfest celebration. interviewed Amanda Dyke, the Community Events Programer for the City of Barrie, to talk about the ever popular Barrie Winterfest.


RAL: Tell me a bit about the event.

AD: The current version of Winterfest is celebrating it’s 26th year. The festival used to be known as the Barrie Winter Carnival, organized by a committee of residents, before being taken over by the city. Over the two-day event, we expect to have 20,000 attendees depending on the weather. Demographically speaking, we see primarily young families, although we have seen an increase in the number of adults attending without children as we’ve added activities and experience geared toward them.


RAL: What makes the festival unique?

AD: We’re unique in that people of all ages can have the opportunity to experience something new or different about Winter in Ontario. From dog cart rides for young children to a guided historical walking tour for your family’s history buff, there’s really something here for everyone.


RAL: What can attendees expect to find for activities and guest appearances?

AD: We have many activities including dog sledding, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice carving, lumberjack shows, helicopter rides, snow tubing, snowboarding, curling, skating, hockey, snow carvings, historical walking tour, light displays, large kite flying demos, polar bear swim, horse-drawn wagon rides, bonfire, downtown hot chocolate trail and more.


There will be live shows and guest appearances throughout the duration of the festival such as live entertainment by celebrity clown DooDoo (from Billy Madison!), Barrie’s Town Crier, fire and glow performers, and other entertainers. Often, local community leaders participate in the polar bear dip, to add to the overall experience of the festival.


RAL: Talk about the dining options people will find.

AD: Attendees will enjoy a variety of traditional Canadian and festival food options. Some food items include poutine, maple taffy, the Scouts cookout, Downtown BIA Hot Chocolate Trail, plus some unique food experiences from vendors representing Canada’s diversity. Winterfest’s location also gives attendees the opportunity to visit the many downtown cafes, restaurants and pubs to get out of the cold and try a unique flavor of hot chocolate along the BIA’s Hot Chocolate Trail.


RAL: What will attendees find for local lodging and are there any specials set up specifically for the event?

AD: Barrie has several bed and breakfasts, hotels and resorts within a 20 minute drive of the event site, with several offering stay and play packages where they partner with local attractions such as Hardwood Ski and Bike and Snow Valley Resort. We encourage attendees to book their accommodations early to ensure they can stay in Barrie all weekend long and take advantage of the many attractions we offer.


RAL: What does the festival mean to the community?

AD: Winterfest kicks off the year’s annual festivals and gives residents and visitors an opportunity to explore and enjoy Barrie’s waterfront and downtown during the winter months. It encourages involvement by community groups and local businesses through sponsorships and on-site promotional spaces, as well as through off-site partnered events such as the Barrie Film Festival’s Reel Stories Series, the February Blues Festival, Arts and Crafts at the Barrie Public Library and the MacLaren Art Centre and the winter version of Barrielicious, an event featuring unique and fine dining options at locally owned and operated restaurants. Visitation to Barrie for Winterfest also generates economic spin-off via hotel stays, shopping, dining and visiting attractions, as well as puts Barrie on the map by highlighting our unique waterfront and the many activities and services the community offers.


RAL: Does the festival support any special causes in the community?

AD: While we are not a fundraiser, we provide mostly free activities and programming for young families and new residents looking to experience a traditional Canadian winter. We partner with local nonprofits and charities such as the Scouts, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and others who participate at the event, or in partnership with the event to raise funds for their cause


RAL: Why should people come to your festival?

AD: Whether this is your first winter or just one of many, everyone can experience something truly memorable at Winterfest. Where else will you be able to snowshoe, ski, snowboard, try dogsledding, and see a real live lumberjack? Families can look forward to a busy day taking in all of the sights, smells and sensations that accompany a traditional Canadian winter. Couples and adult groups are encouraged to enjoy some of the event’s programming in the moonlight. Saturday night comes alive with amazing ice carvings and light displays, fire and glow performers, skating on the pond, a historical walking tour and more.

For more information about Barrie Winterfest, please visit their website