My Calgary: Festivals Through a Dragon's Eye

Brett Wilson Shares His Favourites

The rest of Canada may know W. Brett Wilson as a successful entrepreneur and the friendliest Dragon on CBC TV’s the Dragon’s Den, but around Calgary he’s also well known for his philanthropy, giving and raising tens of millions of dollars for a wide variety of causes. He’s also known around town for wearing Converse All Stars when every other guy in the room is wearing black or brown leather brogues. 

Fringe Festival
Performers entertain the crowds at the Fringe Festival
Brett has put more than a few miles on his sneakers tromping around at some of the many festivals in Calgary; and while a heavy travel schedule means he can’t make it to all of them every year, Wilson and his friends and family have plenty of great memories from the city’s festival circuit.

A big believer in fun (the word is written into the job description and job titles for Wilson’s staff at his holding company, Prairie Merchant Corporation), it’s no surprise Wilson enjoys Calgary Fringe Festival (July 29 – Aug 6), where artists are free to create “theatre without restrictions.”

“The only thing you know for sure at Calgary’s Fringe Festival, is that you never know what kind of theatre you will see,” says Wilson. “It’s entrepreneurial art.” The 2010 Calgary Fringe Festival will run 27 uncensored and unjuried productions over nine days in Calgary’s historic Inglewood.

blues music
Celebrating the blues in Calgary
Another favourite for Wilson, a long-time supporter of musicians, is the International Blues Festival (Aug 4 – Aug 7). “Live music is passion, pure and simple. There is this direct line from the musicians to your heart, and the blues in particular help remind us we all share the frailty of the human condition.” This year’s Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park features 25 performers including David Clayton Thomas of Blood, Sweat & Tears fame.

crowds at Taste of Calgary
Taste of Calgary, near Eau Clair market
Years ago, after going through a divorce and battling prostate cancer, Wilson went looking for more balance in his life, and these days he always has time to spend with his family and friends enjoying simple things, like a great meal in a good restaurant. Watch for the Wilson clan while sampling the menus from 30 different restaurants and listening to local musicians at Taste of Calgary (Aug 12 – 15) at Eau Claire Market.  

Wilson has traveled around the world on philanthropic endeavours: building homes in Mexico, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research and supporting other causes on his annual sojourn to Africa. So he feels right at home at GlobalFest (Aug 20 – Aug 28), a lively festival at Elliston Park that celebrates more than 60 different cultures, and pairs that with an international fireworks festival. “GlobalFest lights up the skies and helps open our eyes to the rich diversity here in Alberta,” says Wilson. “There is also the best aloo gobi you will ever eat at the Indian Pavilion.” 

film fest
Stars come out for the Film Festival
No stranger to red carpets, Wilson and his Converse All Stars often make an appearance at the Calgary International Film Festival (Sept 24 – Oct 3). “I like to explore new and exciting films,” says Wilson. He’s especially enamoured of the CIFF’s new Mavericks program, a sort of Dragon’s Den competition for ten international films by emerging directors where celebrities in town for the festival judge the films and award the winner a cash prize. 

 “I have a big soft spot for Mavericks,” says Wilson, the entrepreneurial philanthropist who knows a thing or two about breaking new ground.