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Canada’s Largest Ribfest Celebrates 20 years

by Pam Belgrade

What started as a new fundraising venture for the Rotary Club of Burlington Lakeshore in 1996 has grown over the past 20 years into the largest Ribfest in Canada, a signature event at the waterfront for residents and visitors.  It is definitely a favorite event for my friends and family as we make our annual trek down to the park and we are counting down the days!   Since it is the event’s anniversary I thought I would highlight some of the history and little known facts about Ribfest over the last 20 years.

In 2006 the Rotary Club took a leap of faith that the public would support this new event and even though the first year it rained all weekend and only made $800 they committed to operate for 3 years and then determine it’s success.  Starting with 6 ribbers, the Downchild Blues Band as the headliner, by 1998 when I started working with Ribfest (Marketing with City Parks & Recreation) it was a very popular successful event.  Mike Mueller from the City Events Unit has worked with this group since the start and reminisces  “The growth and popularity of the event has been phenomenal and well documented.  In year one they were not sure how successful the event would be so they actually began by taking a small section of the park in conjunction with the well established Fall Art Market the Burlington Art Centre (at the time) was running.  Even though it was a very rainy weekend it was clear that the “appetite” of Burlingtonians for Ribfest was there as many turned out in spite of the conditions to try things out.  From that time the event took over the park on the Labour Day weekend and the rest is history!”  

Burlington’s Ribfest is often called the Superbowl of Ribfests, due in part to the number of ribbers, ribs consumed and people attending.  With a magnificent view of the lake, and close proximity to downtown Burlington in my biased opinion is the best location for ribs in Ontario!  This year there will be 19 rib teams who compete to win awards and bragging rights.   When we attend this event our group splits up to try as many ribs as possible and share so we get a taste of all kinds of delicious sticky, saucy, ribs.Canada's Largest Ribfest - eating ribs

Entertainment has become an integral part of the event with music now playing all weekend on three stages.  Merriam Music Jamfest held on the Gazebo at Ribfest is an opportunity for performers to showcase their talents and includes open mic and band competitions.  Maybe I will get discovered yet!

First time visitors to the event may notice the absence of garbage cans in the park.  The Rotary club has made a commitment to be an environmentally sensitive festival and divert 85% of waste from landfill by using recycling centres.  For these efforts Canada’s Largest Ribfest has won best greening of a festival over the past 5 years from Festivals and Events Ontario.  This is no small feat and possible due to the hundreds of volunteers at these stations.  Every time we visit the event I am amazed at how efficient and friendly the volunteers are while doing a pretty messy job- kudos to them!

Ribfest is the largest fundraiser done by the Lakeshore Club and over the past 20 years it has raised $3 million dollars for local and international causes.  Some local examples include Joseph Brant Hospital has received $230,000 for numerous projects and in 2014 $35,000 in donations were collected at the event for Burlington Flood Relief.  So when you support Ribfest you not only are enjoying yourself at a great community event you are helping give back to the community.

From a tourism perspective Ribfest generates $800,000 each year in economic impact with 150,000 residents and visitors attending the four day event.  In 2005 Ribfest was recognized for these contributions to the local economy by being presented with the Tourism Ambassador Award on their 10th anniversary. Canada's Largest Ribfest

To celebrate their 20th anniversary Ribfest is starting a day earlier on September 3 with “Throwback Thursday” #TBTribfest  from 5:30pm – 11pm featuring throw back pricing on ribs and beer and Honeymoon Suite as the musical headliner.  We might have to attend both Thursday and Friday now to enjoy the great tunes and savings. Check out the various videos that Ribfest has created to celebrate their anniversary which provide insight into the event history, benefits and even tips on how to make great ribs at home!

For all the event details including entertainment, transportation (take the free shuttle), hotel accommodations, etc visit the website or come into the visitor centre to pick up a free ribfest schedule.

Thanks to the Rotary Lakeshore Club’s 65 members who contributed thousands of volunteer hours to develop and deliver this enjoyable and charitable event.

See you at the event.


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