London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
As preparations continue for the 26th edition of London Ribfest, the show’s promoter is already thinking about what he will do to celebrate the 30th anniversary.
The problem for Doug Hiller, president and promoter of Family Shows Canada, which took over Ribfest six years ago, is that he isn’t quite sure what year that will be. While it might seem just simple math, Hiller said there is some confusion around the festival’s history.
While this year marks six for Family Shows Canada, and Boys and Girls Club of London ran it for 20 years before that, Hiller said the original festival was started by someone who may not have called the event Ribfest.
“We believe the reason why it is called 26 years as Ribfest is it may not have been called that for the first three years. But we haven’t found enough old-timers around to confirm all of this,” Hiller said. “We don’t know what we are going to do when it turns 30 because we are at 26, which would be four years, but technically it is next year. So probably next year, we are going to make a decision on how to handle this.”
Hiller said one historic fact he is sure of is that London Ribfest was the first competitive ribs festival of its kind in Canada. That fact is something Hiller said not enough people are aware of. However, for a company that bills itself as Canada’s Biggest Party, being the first — and many, including Hiller, would call the best — London’s version of a ribfest is something to be celebrated.
“It still remains the first in Canada and we are all about being first and biggest and all that, Canada’s Biggest Party, the biggest ribfest and all that. It is a pride issue, but also a bragging point for London,” Hiller said. “We want people to realize that. That is something not enough people know about. Now, they are everywhere, most major cities have a ribfest, sometimes more than one. But that tradition grew from right here in London.”
London Ribfest runs Aug. 2-6, in Victoria Park. The festival brings more than 200,000 people to the park who will enjoy the creations of 10 competitive ribbers, 100 food vendors (including vegan, vegetarian, Italian, Portuguese and, for the first time at Ribfest, Turkish), some 250 exhibitors and 75 bands across five stages. All that, Hiller said, for free.
It is that commitment to running a free event that makes Ribfest somewhat unique. Hiller said he believes while other festivals can generate $50,000 from “voluntary donations,” he believes London residents have already paid for the event through their taxes. As such, the festival pays its bills not through admissions or government grants, but strictly through the money charged to the vendors. And there remains a long line of people on a waiting list hoping to eventually get in.
That goes for the ribbers too.
“Right now, the top 10 teams we find, we work with them every year. If someone isn’t making the grade or are getting complaints, we get rid of them. We do have a list of people waiting to join us,” Hiller said. “The latest to join us last year was the OLG and it took them two years. But they won. We couldn’t believe it, right out of the gate and they won best ribs. And best ribs is the coveted award, it’s the biggest trophy.
With more than 200,000 people coming through the Victoria Park gates, it is no surprise Hiller said managing all the trash is his biggest problem each year. To solve that problem, or perhaps complicate it, Hiller said his focus is on creating the most environmentally friendly event possible.
And to achieve this, Hiller said everything at Ribfest is recycled, right down to the composting.
“We are very green and have been involved with the city to not only be as green as they want us to be, but we said if we are going to do this, we are going to go all the way,” said Hiller. “Our golf carts are electric, the E-bikes we use to run around the festival are all electric, very little fuel is being burned.”
To help further reduce his environmental footprint, Hiller will not hire any exhibitor or entertainer who has to travel from more than a 200-kilometre radius of the Forest City.
But the thing Hiller feels most proud of, is watching people having a great time at his event. Well, except for those times he worries about there not being enough people around.
“When I am watching people, usually I can’t even think straight; it is overwhelming. I definitely feel a lot of pride,” Hiller said. “At certain parts of the day when the numbers are low, I am feeling awful, everything’s bad, the world is ending, but then they come in droves later in the day. It is an emotional rollercoaster for sure.”
For more information, visit http://canadasbiggestparty.com.
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