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New-look Whistler Children’s Festival makes its return

Expanded event features live music, arts and crafts, circus acts, workshops and more 
The 39th annual Whistler Children’s Festival moves from its usual July slot to run over two weekends this month.

Since emerging from the pandemic, local kids’ entertainer and comedian Ira Pettle has levelled up. Between co-launching and starring in the sold-out 15-week Laugh Out LIVE show this winter at Maury Young, and crafting his soon-to-be-released debut kids album, it has been the culmination of two long-held dreams for the local Whistlerite. 

For anyone who knows Pettle (which I do as a friend and collaborator), you know he’s something of a perfectionist, holding himself to an impossibly high standard. 

So, when he takes to the mic for the 39th annual Whistler Children’s Festival this month to share the songs he’s been working on for months alongside producer and Juno-winning musician Norman Foote, he wants you to know he’s still working out the kinks. 

“I’m in that zone of the music flipping into becoming the priority, and it’s still so raw. Children’s fest is the first public share. It feels so huge for me,” he says. 

With the event expanding into two weekends, Pettle will be there May 20 at 5 p.m. to kick off the festival with one of his patented DJ Ira Dance Parties, with the help of Foote. But rather than play the DJ Ira classics—think the Village People’s “YMCA,” or the Jackson 5’s “Blame it on the Boogie”—Pettle is more inclined to swing for the fences and sing his own tunes live instead. 

“I’m not retiring the DJ Ira show, but I think this is the next phase, my new show,” he says. “I need to let go of the ‘YMCA’ to really dive into this music and give myself a chance at hitting this next pitch.” 

Pettle returns to the stage the following weekend, Friday, May 27, at 5 p.m. 

A festival regular, Pettle is of course but one of a stuffed lineup of performers and educators descending on Whistler Village for the expanded, two-weekend affair. Arts Whistler decided to move the event from its usual July slot to the May weekend for a number of reasons: to avoid the inclement weather that has impacted Whistler’s summers the past few years; to help grow the resort’s shoulder season visitation; and to help re-engage the event’s audience after a couple years of COVID. 

“We’re giving this a different opportunity,” says Mo Douglas, Arts Whistler’s executive director. 

After last year’s event was held in a hybrid in-person, virtual format, this year’s schedule will also see the fest return fully to in-person events, and for the first time, will include performances onstage at the Maury Young Arts Centre. 

“All the shows we’re able to do on the stage, we’re able to give a stronger performance experience in the theatre,” adds Douglas. “Especially for kids that live here, they may have aspirations but don’t have an opportunity to see a lot of live performances. That’s such a cool thing, that they can see adults who have grown up to do this and will be encouraging kids that, ‘You can dance, you can sing, you can do all these things.’” 

One unique performer who has a penchant for inspiring the next generation of creatives is Vancouver’s RupLoops, née Rupinder Sidhu, who blends hip hop and live looping with instruments and sounds across a variety of cultures into a live show that tends to mesmerize kids as much as adults. RupLoops hits the stage May 29 at 11 a.m. 

“I want to inspire as many people to play music as possible,” he says. “It’s not too long ago that we all played music. Music was part of our cultural existence; we weren’t just passive consumers in it. In the capitalist framework, we’ve created this framework where music lives over here and only these people do it. So I really try to make my show as interactive as possible. I try to get kids on it and invite them onstage to make music with them so they can see a bit of the process up close.” 

Also joining the lineup after performing virtually in 2021 is Vancouver’s Ginalina, a three-time Juno nominee who sings in English, French and Mandarin and explores themes of family, community and nature in what she describes as “West Coast family folk.” That “family” descriptor is even more relevant considering it is Ginalina’s own four children—aged eight, 10, 11 and 13—who have helped shape her sound, first as backup singers and today as full-fledged members of the band. 

“The themes for my albums have completely emerged from our own habits and our own family adventures,” she says. 

“[My kids] actually sing on every single album and their roles have really changed throughout the years. As they started, they sang background and on choruses. Now they’re singing more complicated lines and adding multilingual layers to it, so they’re very musical now. Now that they’re much older, they’re a real and relevant part of the music and the music band.” 

Ginalina hits the Maury Young stage on Sunday, May 22 at 5 p.m. 

On top of the live performances, there are a number of interactive workshops over the two weekends, including kids yoga, hand puppetry, breakdance, magic, and acting. 

A carryover from last year, there will also be a family adventure map, a free, hands-on, self-guided scavenger hunt around the Cultural Connector that will be available to families all summer. 

Other Cultural Connector sites—the Whistler Museum, library, Audain Art Museum and Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre—will be hosting their own free programming to coincide with the festival. 

For tickets and the full lineup, visit