Enjoy a performance, browse the artisan market and learn more about First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture at this annual festival, held at Fort York National Historic Site.
As a kid, the skyscrapers coming into view as we rode into Toronto on the GO bus from Hamilton were always an exciting view. The big city was someplace I could meet new people and have new experiences.
Despite being grown up now, Toronto is still that same big city to me, one where I can have new experiences. The Indigenous Arts Festival in Toronto (June 17 & 18, 2023) is one such example.
This festival, hosted at Fort York National Historic Site beside Liberty Village, has been running since 2012. Every year for three days in mid- to late June, it showcases Indigenous visual arts, music, dance, theatre and storytelling.
Traditional and contemporary Indigenous musicians, dancers and actors perform on the festival stages, and other programming includes art demonstrations and VR experiences. The festival also features Indigenous-owned food vendors and a marketplace of Indigenous craftspeople and artists.
Join me for a day to celebrate First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists and culture.
Start with brunch
Brunch from a festival food vendor is a great way to start the day! With affordable and authentic options ranging from bannock and cedar tea to bison burgers and pickerel dinners, you’ll be sure to find something that appeals to your palate.
I like to begin the day with a cup of warm cedar tea and fresh bannock. The bread, which was created as a response to the introduction of the “Five White Gifts”—flour, sugar, lard, milk and salt—on Indigenous reserves, tastes especially delicious with strawberry jam.
This bread has a few variations throughout so-called Canada and the United States but is always a staple in Indigenous homes.
Shop from Indigenous vendors
Mid-morning is a good time to stroll Fort York, check out the 30+ vendors, and pick up some souvenirs for loved ones. From paintings and jewellery to leather goods and soap, the options are endless.
Walk to a local landmark
Traditional food offers sustenance for a walk to Inukshuk Park. My favourite meal was a smoked salmon dish from chef Shawn Adler (formerly of Pow Wow Cafe). You can catch Chef at pop-ups along the pow wow trail or follow him on social media for more 2023 dates and locations.
Previously known as Battery Park, the grounds are home to an approximately 9 m (30 ft) tall and 4.5 m (15 ft) wide Inukshuk sculpture crafted by Inuk artist Kellypalik Qimirpik. Based out of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut, Qimirpik crafted the sculpture in celebration of World Youth Day, 2002.
Historically, these sculptures would serve as way-finders for land and sea travellers in northern regions. Often, they offered comfort and advice alongside their navigation purposes.
The careful craftsmanship of Kellypalik Qimirpik reminds me of the gentle ways that my people have always created with the land, as opposed to against it or from it.
Enjoy the musical performances
With the evening comes a chance to sit back and enjoy the many musical and theatrical performances on stage.
Traditional singers, such as the Manitou Mkwa Singers from the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, provide heartfelt songs about strong women, water, bears and wind. These songs are sung four times to honour each of the four directions, four sacred plants and four colours of the medicine wheel, and remind listeners to respect and celebrate the many walks of life on Earth.
Contemporary musicians like Jah’kota show young up-and-coming Indigenous artists what it can look like to be Indigenous in the music industry. The Ottawa-based artist and entrepreneur—part Jamaican and part Nakota from Ocean Man First Nation—creates hip-hop, proving that Indigenous musicians don’t have to forsake their traditional roots.
After a long and exciting day, I like contributing to one more Indigenous-owned business and buying a cup of relaxing Labrador tea, a traditional herbal tea similar to cedar tea.
Getting to Fort York National History Site:
- From Bathurst subway station, take the 511 Bathurst streetcar southbound to the Fleet Street and Fort York Boulevard stop.
- Or from Union station, take the 509 Harbourfront streetcar westbound to the Fleet Street and Fort York Boulevard stop.