Cat Fest returns for a week-long celebration

by | May 16, 2023 | Arts & Life

Edmonton International Cat Fest, the biggest cat party in Alberta, is adding more purrs with its first ever Cat Fest Week. This festival was held virtually for the past 3 years due to the pandemic and will be returning in-person from May 20th to the 28th. 

“We’re still in a pandemic, but I think we’re feeling a lot more comfortable being back in person… we’re doing it as a week long [of] events. Well, just over a week, actually, long event this time around. They’re going to be a little smaller events,” said Linda Hoang, Founder and one of the organizers of Edmonton International Cat Fest. 

“So it’s not as overwhelming or as crowded as our past events would be, which is good. But it’s been a long time. It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve been back in person. Over three years. We’re getting a lot of great feedback and cat lovers of the city seem to be very excited.”

Cat Fest is usually an annual single day event. The committee wanted to change that for this year’s festival.

“We basically broke out what a single day event might look like with all sorts of different activities and then just spread it out over time, over the week. But part of that was so we could ease back into an in-person event … We thought ‘let’s just do a few more smaller crowd management type of activities [and] see how it goes’ … at our height we had around 3000 people attend and that’s a lot of people in one indoor space,” said Hoang.

One of the events this year is a cat cookie decorating event on May 27. Photo via Edmonton Cat Fest

The change for a week-long event is also due to more event competition popping up around the same time as Cat Fest.

“When we started there wasn’t really a lot of things for cat people. And now that it’s been almost a decade, there are much more opportunities for cat lovers and cat people to do different things,” said Hoang.

Origins of the festival

Hoang started Cat Fest in 2014. At the time, she found out a traveling cat film festival was going to a few places across Canada, and Edmonton wasn’t on their list. She also realized there weren’t any cat festivals in Edmonton or anywhere.

“I was like, okay, well, let’s make our own little cat celebration. Dog people or dog owners, it’s really easy for them to get out and meet each other at dog parks, going on walks. Cat owners don’t really get to do that.” 

Hoang wanted to capture the social nature of chatting with pet parents at the dog park, but for those with feline companions. “And so we thought, you know, why not create a place or a space that would sort of be like, you know, the dog park equivalent, like a cat party, a cat park in the form of this festival. So it was really about, can we create something that celebrates cats and their cat people? And then we added the charitable component to it where we’re raising money for cat rescues as well,” said Hoang.

The first Cat Fest was held at NAIT’s Shaw Theatre while Hoang worked at NAIT. She said the first event was about bringing the cat community together to watch cat videos and have a few cat presentations. Over time it got bigger and more cat related events were added. Many of the original events are still being organized, but on a bigger scale. Hoang is excited about the turnout on the day of.

“I love seeing more and more people attending events. The virtual events [have] been fun and we’ve put up really interesting lineups and presenters and it’s cool that it has reached all around the world. That’s been really cool as well but just not the same energy and vibe. I’m super excited to get back in person [with] all these smaller events.” 

The growth of the festival from its humble beginnings is something Hoang’s especially happy about. “I think it’s been really cool to see it grow from that little, little event that started at NAIT in the theatre, and then to where it’s at and with international guests and thousands of people and over $100,000 raised for rescues … the festival committee really loves being able to give cat lovers this kind of space to be unapologetically cat people.”

The 2023 lineup

This year’s festival begins with the Celebpurrty Cat Meet & Greet. Great Grams of Gary was the virtual guest for all three online events and will be at Homes Alive Pets (West Edmonton) on Saturday, or as Cat Fest calls it, Caturday, May 20th.

“He’s been such a supporter of us for our last three virtual events. We really still wanted to give him an in-person event as well,” said Hoang.

Great Grams of Gary will be the “celebpurrty” cat for this year’s International Cat Fest. Photo via @greatgramsofgary

The celebpurrty cat is chosen based on the cat’s fame on social media and their location. Hoang explained that local cats require less upfront costs for flights and hotels, so it allows the festival organizers to focus on raising more money for their chosen rescue. The meet and greet is always a popular event, and the chosen celebrity cat often does media interviews alongside the festival. 

“There’s usually hundreds of people that line up. There’s thousands of people who come out to the previous events.”

“But the cat’s health is a priority,” said Hoang. “We’re always trying to make sure that the travel and the experience is going to be the easiest for the cats so that it’s not super stressful for them … We usually only limit the meet and greets to a couple hundred just because we don’t have enough time and we don’t want to overwhelm the cat,” she explained. 

Hoang is also excited to have small businesses lined up to offer cat-themed foods and drinks for this year’s festival. She says it couldn’t be done for a single-day event but for a week-long event they are “encouraging kind of the whole city to get involved.”

“We love puns so a lot of these cat-themed foods and drinks have pun names. Chocorrant on 124th Street is going to be offering a cat purr-fait. Meuwly’s is also up on 124th Street. They’re going to be [making] a salmon sandwich and a milk bun. So very cat-themed. We’ve got cat paw cookies from PhatBar Bakery. MilkCrate downtown … they’re going to do they’re called meow-carons, like macarons. So not only will it be a week of events, people can also pop into different businesses for special cat-themed items as well,” said Hoang.

Raising funds for charities

Since 2014, Cat Fest has raised $130,000 for rescues helping cats in need. All of the proceeds from this year’s festival will be donated to the Furget Me Not Animal Rescue. Hoang said any amount of money raised will make a huge difference for these rescues as they’re all volunteer-organized and volunteer-led.

The proceeds from this years festival will be donated to Furget Me Not Animal Rescue. Photo via Furget Me Not

“Thanks to our presenting sponsor, Homes Alive Pets we’ll be able to give them at least a few thousand dollars already, not including ticket sales. We’re really happy about that and that’ll make a really big difference for them. Aside from the money, it’s really good exposure and awareness for these rescues as well because the online community that we have are obviously local cat lovers and cat people. So it really helps put that rescue sort of on the radar for a lot of really relevant audiences as well,” said Hoang.

The response leading up to Cat Fest Week has been really good and the festival’s committee is thinking about their celebration for the festival’s 10th year.

“This year we’re testing that kind of Cat Week concept. So I’m curious if we have a big event again, if we go back to that big single day format next year, if we keep kind of the smaller event week. Something that I do personally is I usually celebrate a birthday month. So I wonder [if] maybe May [will become] Cat [Fest] month in Edmonton. Maybe that’s where we go with it. But I’m not sure… we’ll for sure do something for our 10th year which is in 2024,” said Hoang.

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