Competition festivals sponsored by Canadian branches of the international Kiwanis Service Clubs founded in the USA in 1915 and in Canada in 1917. The impetus for involvement in festivals came in 1943, when the Toronto Kiwanian George W. Peacock, inspired by the success of competition festivals in western Canada, suggested that Kiwanis might foster greater public interest in music through the establishment of similar festivals. This sentiment was endorsed by Sir Ernest MacMillan, who challenged the Kiwanis Clubs to become involved in the musical life of Toronto. An organizational committee was formed in 1943 with Peacock as chairman. Gordon V. Thompson was among the committee's members.

The first Canadian Kiwanis Festival was held 7-16 Feb 1944 in Toronto's Eaton Auditorium. Adjudicators included Arthur Collingwood, Bernard Naylor, Charles O'Neill, and Max Pirani. W.B. Rothwell became the festival's first director. Approximately 7000 competed, and among the winners was the 10-year-old pianist Glenn Gould.

Kiwanis clubs in other parts of Canada began to organize their own festivals shortly thereafter, or in some instances assumed responsibility for well-established existing festivals (eg, Edmonton, Stratford, Calgary, Vancouver). By 1990 the organization was responsible for 38 annual competitions throughout Canada: 22 in Ontario, 8 in Alberta, 2 in Nova Scotia, 4 in Newfoundland, and 2 in British Columbia. All were members of the FCMF.

Performance categories at festivals include solo voices and instruments, choral and instrumental ensembles, bands and orchestras; many also include speech. The ages of participants may range from 4 or 5 to over 30, mostly students at all levels and amateurs. Most Kiwanis festivals attract local performers only, though some draw competitors from other provinces or even other countries. The choice of adjudicators (chiefly Canadian, US, and British) lies with the individual organizing body but usually has been made in co-ordination with the FCMF. Kiwanis festivals have offered a variety of scholarships and trophies (ie, rosebowls, silver trays, etc), determined by available funds. Some festivals have only one sponsoring Kiwanis club, while others in large centres may have 5, 10, or more branches contributing support. It has been the custom for a festival to present a special concert by a selection of its winners following the conclusion of the competition.

Noted Canadian performers who have been among the winning participants in Kiwanis festivals include William Aide, Derek Bampton, the Barrie Central Collegiate Band, Jean Bonhomme, Maurice Brown, Lynn Channing, Jane Coop, Andrew Dawes, Mary Lou Fallis, Judith Forst, Don Garrard, Ofra Harnoy, Angela Hewitt, Gerald Jarvis, Allan Monk, Mari-Elizabeth Morgen, Jamie Parker, Jon Kimura Parker, Kenneth Perkins, Karen Quinton, Catherine Robbin, Guillermo Silva-Marin, Annon Lee Silver, Lilian Sukis, Caralyn Tomlin, Sylvia Fricker Tyson, Alan Woodrow, and Jeannette Zarou.

See also Competition Festivals