May in Canada: Weather, What to Pack, and What to See

Canada, Quebec City, Chateau Frontenac
Make sure to visit Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City on your trip to Canada.

Buena Vista Images / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Warmer weather and fewer crowds make early spring a great time to visit Canada. There's still some chill in the air, but with the snow gone and spring flowers in bloom, May is an ideal time to visit. The complete gamut of summer activities is not in full swing, but golfing has begun in the western provinces and spring ski deals are still available at many mountain resorts. You can go hiking and even camping if you're fully prepared.

If your eye is on an urban adventure in a Canadian city, May offers pleasant temperatures for walking in its scenic old towns and exciting urban landscapes. But rain is a reality all across the country, so it's smart to have some indoor backup plans wherever you are, along with good waterproof clothing. 

On the downside, some of the most popular Canadian festivals and events are not yet underway, and May can still be quite chilly and not comfortably warm enough to do certain activities. Certainly, lake and ocean swimming are not yet in season—it's best to save those activities for the summer.

Canada Weather in May

Canada is a large and geologically varied country and weather conditions among Canadian cities can be drastically different. But in Canada's most popular cities to visit, you'll generally find that the cold and dark days of winter have already passed and spring weather is in full gear. Temperatures can still be chilly—especially at night—but you should be able to enjoy most of Canada's outdoor and natural beauty without any problems.

Vancouver on the west coast is more temperate, so the average temperature doesn't get as high or as low as cities farther east. Toronto and Montreal may have warmer and sunnier days, but nighttime temperatures can still drop to uncomfortably cold numbers.

May is a rainy month across Canada, and not just in Vancouver, which is infamous for its overcast and constant sprinkling that is typical of the Pacific Northwest. Unless you're going to the far north, you don't have to worry about snow in May, but definitely be prepared for some wet days regardless of what city you visit.

City Avg. High Temperature Avg. Low Temperature Avg. Rainfall
Vancouver 61 F (16 C) 46 F (8 C) 3.0 inches
Toronto 64 F (18 C) 43 F (6 C) 3.2 inches
Montreal 66 F (19 C) 45 F (7 C) 3.2 inches
Halifax 59 F (15 C) 39 F (4 C) 4.7 inches
Calgary 63 F (17 C) 40 F (4 C) 2.2 inches
Ottawa 66 F (19 C) 45 F (7 C) 3.4 inches
Edmonton 63 F (17 C) 37 F (3 C) 1.8 inches

What to Pack

Your packing list will vary depending on where you're going, but in general, you'll want to layer up. Bring warm sweaters and a light winter coat to keep warm, but don't be afraid to pack short sleeve shirts to wear underneath in case you get a beautifully warm spring day. If you're in a city, closed-toe footwear like boots or sneakers is appropriate. If you're heading out into nature, pack sturdy hikers, as the thaw may make trails a little muddy. Plus, it's likely to be rainy in Canada in May—rain boots, an umbrella, and a raincoat all should be packed in your bag. 

May Events in Canada

In May, there are a few festivals across Canada celebrating spring weather and the arts that are worth building your itinerary around. Most events taking place in May 2021 have been moved to a virtual format, so make sure to confirm the most up-to-date information with event organizers.

  • The Canadian Tulip Festival: More than 650,000 visitors take in the million tulips on display in Ottawa every year in May. This vibrantly colorful display celebrates not only the spring bloom but also the liberation of the Netherlands during World War II.
  • Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival: One of the world's largest annual photography events takes place each year in Toronto throughout the entire month of May. There are over 200 exhibitions of works by photographers from across Canada and the globe on display in galleries across the city for all to enjoy.
  • The Stratford Festival: This months-long theater festival runs from April to October in Stratford, Ontario (named after the English town where Shakespeare was born). You can book roundtrip transportation from Toronto with your ticket to catch a number of plays at this thespian event, from Shakespeare to contemporary musicals.
  • The Shaw Festival: Round out your trip to the Niagara Wine Country with this theater festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. It's world-class theater from both famous and upcoming playwrights and runs from April to October each year.
  • Carassauga Festival: Carassauga is Mississauga's festival of cultures, celebrating groups from 32 countries. There will be nearly 5,000 performers in nearly 950 performances over the long weekend of events in this Toronto suburb.
  • Canadian Music WeekMore than 1,000 artists perform over the course of this festival and conference in venues across Toronto. It's one of the biggest music events in the country and showcases new artists from all genres. It's a must-see event for any music lover.
  • The Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival: This annual celebration in Nova Scotia celebrates the province's agricultural heritage. Come out to see the apple blossom trees in full bloom in Annapolis—less than two hours away from Halifax—during this event at the end of May. (The Apple Blossom Festival was canceled in 2021.)

May Travel Tips

  • Victoria Day is a national holiday in Canada that falls on the Monday before May 25 (on May 24 in 2021). Government services, schools, and banks will be closed. Victoria Day's long weekend is a big travel holiday in Canada that's commonly referred to as "May Two-Four Weekend" even if it does not fall precisely on May 24. Expect crowded highways on the Friday and Monday of this weekend and long lineups at border crossings. 
  • May is generally shoulder season, and you can likely score a pretty good deal on airfare and hotels relative to summertime prices. Book a trip for the second half of May for warmer weather.

To find out more about visiting throughout the year, read up on the best time to visit Canada.