People dancing a traditional dance at dusk
Arts and Culture Under the Lights, Thunder Bay Culture Days 2023, photo by Ruth Burns.

Ontario Culture Days 2023 Highlights

December 20, 2023

From September 22 to October 15, 2023, Ontario Culture Days brought together over a million participants across the province for a lively celebration of artistic and cultural diversity. Organizers hosted open studios, hands-on crafts, cultural family fun, dance and music showcases, museum tours, and so much more – all highlighting Ontario’s unique creative spirit.

Festival Facts

The Festival featured 1,200 free activities across 97 municipalities during the three-week celebration. This year saw a noteworthy rise in independent organizers to a total of 487, a remarkable 13% increase from 2022. The events took place in a record 41 languages, highlighting Ontario’s rich multicultural diversity, including 62 Francophone events that added to the richness of the celebrations.

Neighbourhood Arts Tour, Windsor Culture Days 2023, photo courtesy of Alejandro Tamayo.

Cultural Tourism and Economic Impact

The economic impact of the 2023 Festival on Ontario was estimated at over $44 million. With 35% of Ontario Culture Days attendees travelling more than 40km to visit events, it’s clear that arts and culture tourism has an economic impact. Beyond financial gains, the cultural exchange facilitated by visitors from different regions enhances the overall experience, fostering community engagement and networking opportunities, strengthening the reputation of arts and culture organizations, and promoting a positive image that resonates beyond immediate communities.

Festival Hubs

In 2022, Ontario Culture Days worked with local municipalities and organizations to kick off the regional Festival Hub program. Hubs are local partners that act as community leads, playing a pivotal role connecting organizers and amplifying Festival events in Ontario. In its inaugural year, 10 Hubs hosted 570 events, representing over half of all provincial events and drawing in 23,369 people. In 2023, the program expanded to 13 Hubs, hosting 811 events that attracted a remarkable 43,974 attendees, constituting 63% of all provincial events.

Queen West Art Crawl, Toronto Culture Days 2023, photo by Kevin Jones.

Top Participating Communities in Ontario

The provincial list of Top Participating Communities acknowledges event organizers’ roles as champions of enrichment through arts, culture, and creativity. The top participating communities were:

Top Urban/ Large Cities: Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa

Top Town/Mid-Size:

  • Town of Oakville
  • Town of Halton Hills
  • Town of Milton
  • City of Vaughan
  • City of St. Catharines
  • City of Waterloo
  • City of Sault Ste. Marie (tie)
  • City of Thunder Bay (tie)
  • City of Cambridge (tie)
  • City of Burlington

Top Rural/Small Town:

  • Township of Centre Wellington
  • Township of Scugog
  • Brant
  • Town of Minto
  • Town of Gananoque
  • City of Stratford
  • Township of Loyalist
  • Town of St. Marys
  • Township of Mapleton
  • Township of Woolwich

See the list of national Top Participating Communities here.

The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation with Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig and Indigenous Tourism Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie Culture Days 2023, photo by Kyrstiana Bourdage.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

On Saturday, September 30th, 2023, Canadians observed the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR). This date was reserved for Ontario Culture Days events that honoured the histories and experiences of Indigenous people and actively contributed to the ongoing reconciliation process. Communities came together to host and participate in meaningful discussions, artistic expressions, educational workshops, and cultural events, acknowledging the significance of the day and embracing the spirit of reconciliation and collective reflection.

In Ontario, a total of 25 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation events were hosted on September 30, while throughout the Festival, 96 events were tagged as Indigenous events, and 52 events were tagged NDTR. These events foster meaningful discussions, artistic expressions, and educational opportunities.

A substantial 91.3% of attendees in the province were aware of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, underlining the widespread recognition of this important day. Additionally, 36.4% of participants in Ontario were aware of Ontario Culture Days events specifically on this day.

Top motivations for attending NDTR events included wanting to to actively participate in Truth and Reconciliation activities/actions; to listen and learn about and/or from Indigenous people of the place where attendees live; and to connect with Indigenous artists/facilitators in the community.

Scugog Culture Days 2023, photo by Marion Meyers.

Attendee Feedback

Feedback from attendees serves as a compass for ONCD and Festival organizers, guiding continuous improvements with the goal of providing free and accessible arts and culture experiences. This commitment aligns with the motivations that drive Ontarians to participate in cultural events—getting to experience something new; that events are free to attend; and the chance to learn more about art and artists.

As attendees engage in Ontario Culture Days, the impacts resonate beyond the events themselves, fostering a heightened appreciation for arts and culture, instilling a sense of pride and care for the local community, and contributing to an enhanced sense of well-being.

Throughout the year, this cultural enthusiasm extends across various community settings, including libraries, community and cultural centres, parks and outdoor spaces, museums, housing historical and artistic treasures, art galleries, performing arts centres, and local restaurants, bars, and pubs.

When asked about barriers to attending, many attendees reported timing conflicts, proximity of events, and a lack of public transit or car access. To appeal to a broad audience, organizers may consider embracing flexible event schedules and series, as well as evaluating venues for accessibility and transportation connections.

Join us from September 20 to October 13 2024 for the next Ontario Culture Days Festival! If you are interested in hosting an event, check out the following resources:

Year-round, keep up to date with Ontario arts and culture with Stories & More, or explore Ontario with ON Culture Guides self guided itineraries.