Many Canadian bands have hit the big time and made their mark on the music world. From country songs to an array of rock classics to the more psychedelic aspects of prog-rock, music groups from Canada cover everything. So, sit back and prepare to go on a voyage of discovery with the best Canadian bands of all time.
No list of the best Canadian bands can be complete without Rush. This prog trio from Toronto never allowed themselves to be defined by just one sound. These guys were constantly evolving from the hard rock classic Tom Sawyer to more laid-back songs such as Time Stand Still. Too many iconic Rush songs to count.
We love the energy they bring to their songs and their ability to take you on a ride with each one. For us, Rush is fully deserving of its place on our list and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
2. The Tragically Hip
These guys enthralled people across Canada for decades until their frontman, Gord Downie, died in 2017. For us, we cannot think of another Canadian band with so many crowd-pleasers in a single set. If you have never listened to any of their stuff before, then check out some iconic songs such as Locked In The Trunk Of A Car or Wheat Kings to get a sense of just how good these guys were. We see them as rock royalty in Canada, and their songs back this up.
We don’t understand why there has been a fashion to revile Nickelback. As a band with over 50 million album sales and a long list of sold-out concerts, this post-grunge band is one of the most commercially successful Canadian bands of all time. We love their ability to build some tension in their songs before erupting in a cacophony of sound capable of blowing your eardrums in an instant. Before you know it, you will be singing along to classics such as How You Remind Me or Burn It To The Ground.
4. Arcade Fire
Winner of the Grammy for Best Album back in 2011, Arcade Fire has this fantastic ability to appeal to people across the spectrum of music from rock to dance. While their live performances speak for themselves, it’s the way they can make you think about their songs and the meaning behind the lyrics that stand out for us. This is music for your brain, but their songs’ energy and overall vibe will infect your mind for the rest of your life.
5. The Guess Who
If you log onto a classic rock station, there’s a good chance you will come across some songs by The Guess Who. These rockers out of Winnipeg scored various hits in the 60s and 70s, especially their huge hit American Woman, which was, quite surprisingly, anti-US. However, if you want to hear something else, check out Laughing or No Time. But for us, the blend between hard rock and the occasional psychedelic trip keeps us coming back. It’s smooth and a joy to listen to, no matter your mood.
6. Blue Rodeo
Formed in 1984, Blue Rodeo has launched 16 albums, and these country rockers are still rocking out to packed crowds across Canada. Started by high school buddies Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy, they have won countless awards in their home country over the decades. We think Blue Rodeo is one of the best easy-listening bands around that allow you to be absorbed into their songs and just lie back and enjoy the ride.
7. Barenaked Ladies
Known for not taking themselves seriously, this Scarborough-based band had plenty of mainstream radio play back in the 90s thanks to hits such as One Week and If I Had $1000000. We find ourselves drawn in by their sense of quirky rock music with some seriously catchy lyrics. If you want to listen to fun-filled rock music that will put a smile on your face, then Barenaked Ladies should be on your playlist.
8. Cowboy Junkies
Cowboy Junkies have deserved more mainstream recognition than they have received since their formation in 1986. This alternative rock band may not appear on most lists of the best Canadian bands, but we appreciate their easy way with songs that pull you in and tell a story. The journey they take you on means you fly through their albums and enjoy every single minute of it.
A mainstay of the indie scene in and around Toronto for several years, Metric finally made that breakthrough into the mainstream in 2009 thanks to their hit, Gimme Sympathy, and we think that’s a great introduction to their music. We love how they manage to fuse together their own form of alternative rock and some cool new waves resulting in a unique sound with every album.
Coming out of Calgary, Loverboy was one of the biggest Canadian bands in the 80s, with a series of hits that crashed into the Top 40. Back at their height, songs such as This Could Be The Night and Working For The Weekend were regulars on MTV, and they received extensive airplay on radio stations across the country. We think if you want to experience what Canadian hard rock was like in the 80s, then there’s no better band than Loverboy.
11. Sum 41
These Toronto-based pop and punk rockers set the charts alight in the early 2000s thanks to their debut album All Killer No Filler, but you may know them better for their number one hit, Fat Lip from that first album. They were cool and full of fun, and they managed to get our feet stomping while taking us on a pop and punk road trip. If you want to know what was rocking in 2001, then Sum 41 is the band you need to pay attention to, and we know they won’t disappoint.
At this time, Saga has produced a staggering 22 albums, and they have been active since 1978. This rock band had impressive success in countries as far as Germany and sold over 8 million albums. However, we suggest checking out some of their best singles to chart, which means listening to On The Loose, Wind Him Up, and What Do I Know? for starters. We love how they take that prog-rock approach and go with it 100%, leaving you with an exciting uncertainty about where the songs will go next.
13. Simple Plan
Simple Plan comes out of Montreal, and they played a massive role in the pop and punk scene of the late 90s in Canada, but their debut album didn’t hit the shelves until 2002. So, why do we think this band full of that teen-angst deserves its place on our list? It’s simply because of songs such as I’m Just A Kid complete with the highly infectious sound that leaves it stuck on replay in your mind—in fact, it recently became a challenge on TikTok. Boy, do they know how to make a tune and ensure it stays there with you.
14. Bachman-Turner Overdrive
No list of Canadian bands could ever fail to include Bachman-Turner Overdrive as this 70s rock band is responsible for what we see as some of the best riffs ever produced in Canadian rock. If you can’t place the riffs, we suggest listening to classics such as You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, Let It Ride, and Roll On Down The Highway. We promise these songs will stay with you forever. Well, we know that’s what’s happened to us anyway.
15. The Band
Formed back in the 60s, this Toronto-based band is viewed by many as one of the most influential rock bands ever. At one point, they were the support band for Bob Dylan on his tours, so you know they bring something special to the table. Members of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the blend of country and folk rock in their music keeps us coming back for more. It really feels unlike anything else you will ever hear out there.
Voivod should slip nicely into your record collection if you love thrash metal. Yet it is not your usual thrash metal band. Instead, their need to experiment with their sounds and approach intrigues us. Add in some lyrics with a serious focus on sci-fi themes, and what you have here is thrash metal unlike anything you have heard before. Honestly, even if you hate this genre, we suggest listening to them as they may change your mind.
17. April Wine
Rocking Canada since the early 70s, April Wine has been responsible for producing some all-time rock classics such as Oowatanite and I Like To Rock. However, their best-known song has to be Just Between You And Me, a power ballad that blew us off our feet the first time we heard it. Oh, and that song also has the distinction of being the first song played by a Canadian artist on MTV.
18. July Talk
We seriously love what July Talk is doing in the world of music. It isn’t easy to think of another band that seeks to fuse so many different styles and genres together and yet still make everything sound amazing. Where else will you hear a combo of blues with rock and some alternative thrown in for good measure? This group builds a lot of excitement for us, but if you don’t know where to start, how about the song Push + Pull, which hit number 1 in Canada in 2016?
The 70s and 80s were a great time for hard rock and metal, but Triumph missed out on achieving the acclaim they deserved. This power trio produced a staggering 16 albums over the years, and you will still hear them being played on a range of classic rock stations. Songs such as Fight The Good Fight and Magic Power are staples, and they will grab that rocker in you and won’t let go until they are done.
20. Three Days Grace
Formed in 1997, Three Days Grace falls into that post-grunge bracket, but boy, have they made their mark in the music industry. Rated as the top rock act of 2007 when it comes to airplay, at least they continue to rock the world to this day. We reckon you should check out their first single, One-X, which was ranked the best rock song in Canada in 2006. It’s a blast to listen to, but turn it up loud to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
21. Broken Social Scene
This indie band from Ontario started life in 1999, and we just had to ensure we included them on our list for one good reason. The sound they produce is mind-blowing. We are talking about a blend of rock with a huge pile of experimental music, including orchestras or even just the occasional violin to change things up. Unsurprisingly, they won the Juno award for Best Alternative Album in 2003 and 2006. Check out the song Cause = Time just to get a sense of what they are capable of. There’s a pretty good chance you will become hooked just as we were.
22. Finger Eleven
Coming out of Burlington, Finger Eleven is best known for alternative rock throughout the seven studio albums they have released to date. Rated in the top 25 of the best-selling Canadian bands of all time, we think the song One Thing should be your starting point. They also tend to move from more of a hard rock sound to a pop sound, but no matter your music preference, we still think their off-mainstream sound will prove a hit.
23. Marianas Trench
As pop rock bands go, Marianas Trench deserves much more acclaim than they get. We love their ability to write some stunning songs resulting in catchy hits that grab you and shake you to your core. We also love how you never know what they will produce next since they have moved from pop to punk, then a funk sound, and shift all the way to rock. That mix is spellbinding and makes you want to hear more to see how different their next song will be.
24. Rough Trade
At times, it’s cool for music to have some controversy surrounding it, and that’s where Rough Trade comes to the fore. Part of the new wave scene in Toronto, you can expect their songs to have a raw and rough edge to them, but that’s something that appeals to us rather than everything having that polished ending. Their synth-rock sound focuses on topics such as control, lust, and a lot of passion, which is cool as those are probably the feelings you will get when listening to their tracks.
Seen as the heirs to The Tragically Hip, Arkells explores the world of music with a touch of politics attached to it all. Known for their incredible live shows, the thing that stands out for us is their clear ability to produce highly infectious rock songs that you will just want to keep on repeat for hours at a time.
26. Great Big Sea
This folk rock band will simply get you tapping your feet and humming along even after the first play. Enthralling audiences for over 20 years, we love the upbeat vibe and energy that comes through their songs, and you may even forget you are listening to folk rock. But we also think it’s cool they don’t forget their roots, leading to some lyrics you probably won’t hear anywhere else.
27. Billy Talent
This punk band has been responsible for some of the coolest rock songs in Canada over the last 20 years leading to numerous awards and countless albums sold. We love the raw nature of their sound, which hasn’t changed over the years, even as they incorporate different aspects of rock into their music. But we also love how Billy Talent just gets better and better as the years go by, so we recommend checking out their tracks from across the years to appreciate just how good a band they are.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.