ATHABASCA, AB – Cloud-watching, river-wading, barefoot dancing fun – few festivals cater as seamlessly to adults and families alike as the Magnificent River Rats Festival in Athabasca, June 30 – July 1.
Classic hot rods line the streets, colourful floats toss out candy for the kids to chase (where can you still find that?) and at one point in the festivities, hundreds of bright yellow tennis balls bounce down the road.
If I had to pick just one highlight it would be the music, but the music alone doesn’t encapsulate the experience. I’ll give you a hint: it’s in the name. The river rats, as legend has it, were the toughest men to ply the river in the early days of fur trading in the Athabasca region. So legendary were these men that Robert Service – Canada’s poet of the North – immortalized them in the poem “Athabasca Dick.”
These days the passage north is an easy two-hour drive on Highway 2 North from Edmonton through Alberta prairie and boreal forest. For modern day explorers making the trek from the city, it’s the first step to disconnecting from the busy urban environment.
The festival grounds occupy River Front Park, a large green space with a main stage that backs onto the river. Organizers have thought of just about everything to entertain the younger crowd, from slapshot hockey games to face-painting, bean bag toss, potato sack races and even shaded reading nooks. For those who love concerts in intimate settings, the grassy lawn of River Front Park hits the mark — and beer gardens are just a barefoot meander away.
Getting the party started early, the festival kicks off in Athabasca the day before Canada Day, June 30, headlined by well-loved children’s performers Sharon and Bram. Skinna-marinky-dinky-dink, anyone? On July 1, audiences can expect big time small town fun, with pancake breakfast, the traditional parade, food trucks and retail vendors, classic car demos and headliners Doug and the Slugs to raise a party before the classic Canada Day finale.
As the fireworks reflect off the river below, you’ll have to agree, there’s few things as good as being a river rat.
- $40/adult for 2 nights (Fri & Sat)
- $25/adult Saturday only
- $20/students and seniors
- Kids 12 and under FREE