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Children's Festival welcomes back young audiences

Six theatrical performances, 10 paid workshops and 16 free activities located in downtown St. Albert on the banks of the Sturgeon River

The International Children’s Festival of the Arts has always searched far and wide for the most exciting, thrilling and culturally diverse performances and activities to share with young audiences. 

Currently operating its 42nd year, festival scouts have turned St. Albert’s downtown core flanking the banks of the Sturgeon River into a hot spot for some of the most innovative artistry in North America. 

The visually striking festival, which runs June 1 to 4, offers a series of ticketed theatrical productions and workshops, as well as free pop-up performances from roving artists, an all-day outdoor stage, and assorted other activities. 

Although relatively short, the four-day festival is an environment that sparks children’s imagination with fresh creativity. In addition, the cultural component nurtures diversity and unity, two elements that build harmony in communities. 

“It’s a pleasure to be international again,” said Andrea Gammon, festival coordinator. During the pandemic, the festival transitioned to an online format with Canadian acts when international borders were closed at various times. 

The festival is broken down into four major categories mixing indoor and outdoor, ticketed and free events. It includes six theatrical performances, 10 paid workshops and 16 free activities. In addition, Toddler Town, a whimsical, low-key tent is set up for preschool children needing a break from the madcap festival energy. It is programed with age-appropriate music, puppets and dance performances. 

The festival's most visually dramatic attraction is an Architects of Air exhibition titled Daedalum Illuminarium. The 15,000 square foot illuminarium is an interconnecting maze of 19-egg-shaped domes whose spaces create mysterious rooms. Constructed of a thin fabric, domes allow light to penetrate, creating indirect illumination that varies in colour according to a dome’s position and the sun’s direction. 

“The fabric is less than one millimetre thick. Although you don’t see sunlight, it’s quite bright. As the clouds move, the light changes,” said Dani Rice, visual arts coordinator for city Park and Recreation. 

“We originally scheduled it for 2020 but nixed it because of the pandemic. It’s our bring-back project. It will be set up in Lions Park and take up the lion's share of Lions Park,” Rice said. “I suspect it will be quite the selfie station of the year in St. Albert.” 

Although the ticketed luminarium makes its St. Albert debut this year, the inflatable sculpture was first viewed in 1992. Since then, three million visitors in more than 40 countries have immersed themselves in this massive labyrinth. 

Another ticketed item that introduces Persian and Middle Eastern storytelling is Wonder Box. Created by Pangea Theatre, it harkens back to the days when storytellers would call children to listen to heroic stories illustrated by a portable box with peepholes. 

Led by a Syrian storyteller, audiences will hear strange and marvellous tales accompanied by a painted box with a glass lens that reveals beautiful scrolls. 

“The box is similar to a viewfinder, only the box is bigger. And there’s a bit of projection. There’s a bit of mystery and it is different and exciting,” Gammon said. 

Also new this year is Senses of Summer, a short walk along the Sturgeon River that encourages participants to use all their senses to discover their surroundings. 

“It’s led by Celina Loyer from the museum. She’ll take children on a short walk and introduce them to plants and things of significance in Métis culture. It’s about open participation where you notice different things that have been used in the past. And she will do it by encouraging them to use touch, smell, sight – all the senses.” 

Several artists and team leaders returning are West Africa’s Drum Speak, Fizzlewit’s Fairy Finding Tours, Printmaking: A Great Impressions and Indigenous Crafting with Lance Cardinal from Bigstone Cree Nation. 

Much of the festival's colour takes place outdoors with free things to do and see. The TD Outdoor Stage brings back Indigenous drummer Ryan Arcand, Amanda Panda’s colourful hula hoop routines, Beth Portman’s outdoor picnic songs and the outrageous Spandy Andy. 

“Spandy Andy is such a positive ball of energy and enthusiasm. You cannot not dance when he’s around. You have to smile, laugh and dance,” said Gammon. 

However, this year’s Outdoor Stage highlight will likely be The Hockey Circus Show, the ultimate tribute to hockey. PAZ, an award-winning acrobat from Cirque de Soleil will deliver three periods of family friendly comedic hockey circus in one arena. 

“People in our area are hockey mad. When you combine hockey enthusiasm with circus, it’s win, win, win.” 

Many of the Outdoor Stage performers are also doubling up as roving artists. However, a new roving curiosity is Heath Tarlin’s Safari Giants. The Toronto entertainer brings a safari to St. Albert. Get ready to welcome Safari Sam and his larger-than-life stilt walking giraffes. 

“Sometimes you find characters that children gravitate to and love. In the past we had frogs that made you smile and giraffes are like that – warm, friendly and unique.” 

Telus World of Science introduces stacks of LEGO bricks and encourages students to test their engineering skills building towers and bridges. And over at Code Ninjas, anyone looking to learn about technology and coding is welcome. 

Another new project is Muralology. In collaboration with Edmonton Mural Festival, Muralology pairs professional artists with high school students from Bellerose High, Paul Kane High and St. Albert Catholic High. 

“These highly accomplished artists will mentor the high school students and teach them how to paint murals. The murals they work on will be developed through the course of the festival.” 

And finally Toddler Town is a respite, a sanctuary for frazzled parents of young children and their young ones needing a break from too much festival stimulation. The tented area has a private feeding and changing area for a bit of down time. And if children require entertainment, there is a schedule that varies from puppets, movement and music to gymnastics, sensory tables and a craft zone. 

For Gammon, the festival is a place that feeds the soul and strengthens mental wellness. 

“There is something for everyone and to be able to share a new experience with family and friends in the community is really important. And being in a beautiful setting and getting out is equally important.” 

For complete performance information visit Online tickets are available at or by phone at 780-459-1542. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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