From carnivals to reggae, there's free summer fun across the Lower Mainland

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      If you’re finding yourself clipping coupons and cutting back on dinners out, you’re not alone. Between the recession and the looming HST, penny-pinching has become an art. That’s why the Georgia Straight has put together a smorgasbord of free events happening around the Lower Mainland this summer, so you can keep the kids busy, your wallet happy, and your car out of downtown traffic.

      On Canada Day (July 1), head to the Steveston Salmon Festival for a parade through the historic fishing village, patriotic ceremonies and celebrations, a showcase of traditional Japanese arts and culture, and of course the popular open-pit wild salmon barbecue, which sells out every year.

      Port Moody
      Now in its 39th year, the Golden Spike Days Festival kicks off July 1 and runs through July 4, with a slew of activities for kids and adults alike. The festival features sporting events like the strongman competition and BMX bikers ripping up the tracks with high-flying stunts. The musically inclined can take part in Port Moody Idol, while those who want to release pent-up frustrations can take part in spike-driving contests. With boat-building activities, a petting zoo, and plenty of entertainment scheduled over four days, this festival will keep everyone in your clan entertained.

      There won’t be a shortage of things to do at the annual Fair in the Square, taking place at Carré Heritage Square, which will feature art activities, outdoor games, a vintage car show, carnival games, and live performances. Fete the festival’s 10th anniversary at the birthday bash on July 10 and 11 with a magic show by Tricky Ricky, or watch Canadian taiko drumming group Uzume Taiko. Kids will love making their own paper “heritage hat” with visual-arts instructor Liz Summerfield and getting nice and messy competing in the watermelon-eating contest.

      The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra returns to Deer Lake Park on July 11 for its annual free outdoor concert of classical and popular favourites. The music starts at 7:30 p.m., but this summer tradition is always a popular draw, so plan on arriving early—with picnic basket and blanket in tow, of course—if you want a good seat.

      New Westminster
      FraserFest celebrates one of the greatest salmon-spawning rivers in the world, highlighting the importance of the Fraser in shaping B.C.’s past and future. The boardwalk along New Westminster Quay will be taken over by a big party from July 16 to 18, with a mascot procession and a Work Boat Parade. Expect to see fire dancers, cabaret and circus performers, fireworks, and children’s entertainment.

      Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows
      Touted as “Woodstock amongst the livestock”, the Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows Country Fest on July 24 and 25 aims to promote and educate the public about the importance of agriculture. And while the kids take in animal shows and learn about farming, you can rock out to some oldies but goodies, with tribute bands paying homage to some of the greats including Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, the Who, and CCR.

      North Vancouver
      Since its humble beginnings back in 1988, the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Society of B.C.’s Caribbean Days Festival has grown into the largest local celebration of Caribbean culture. With a family-friendly street festival modelled after Carnival, performances of reggae, Calypso, and Latin and African music on the mainstage, and a food fair serving up island favourites like roti, jerk chicken, and Jamaican patties, it’s easy to see why. The fun in the sun happens July 24 and 25 at North Van’s Waterfront Park.

      White Rock
      The annual Spirit of the Sea Festival takes place from July 30 to August 2. Festivities run the gamut from an evening torchlight parade on White Rock beach to a carnival for the kiddies, and extend for more than two kilometres along the waterfront of the beachside community.

      West Vancouver
      The Harmony Arts Festival celebrates its 20th year of North Shore art and performances from July 30 to August 8, with children’s activities, Cinema in the Park programming, a craft market, studio tours, shows by over 80 bands, and more free events than you can shake a stick at. Instead, shake your booty at the nightly sunset concert series or the new late-night weekend shows.

      Eat your fill of pancakes, browse the antiques fair, or be dazzled by a display of fireworks at the annual Tsawwassen Sun Festival, South Delta’s largest community celebration, which will be held July 31 to August 2. A parade, a BMX show, and the festival favourite three-day slow-pitch tournament all add to B.C. Day long-weekend fun.