Downtown London, Ont. will be buzzing this week and next as Pride London Festival makes a long-awaited return after a two-year hiatus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The annual event celebrating the local LGBTQ2+ community kicks off July 14 and runs through July 24 with festivities including exhibits, performances and more, capped off with a parade on the final day of the festival.
Pride London Festival, now in its 42nd year, is the latest festival to return to the city center since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“It’s very exciting. Very, very exciting to have everyone together to celebrate who they are, their individuality, and come together for the whole weekend and listen to music, relax, talk to each other and celebrate” , said Deb Abdalla, president of the Pride London Festival, in an interview on Wednesday.
“I look forward to going to all the events and meeting the people there, having fun, talking to…old friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
The festival kicks off on Thursday evening with the 31st edition of the Pride London Festival Art Show at the Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery, located at 258 Dundas St, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. A Pride Movie Party will be held at the Hyland Cinema at 7 p.m.
On Friday there will be a Pride Shabbat dinner at the London Jewish Community Center and The Big Laugh, a comedy show at the Rec Room featuring comedian Al Val.
Other events this weekend include Pride Swim on Saturday at the Boys and Girls Club in London and live music on Sunday as part of Sunday Morning Joy: Pride Edition at Aeolian Hall. A full list of events is available on the Pride London website.
Pride’s biggest festivities will take place next weekend as more than a dozen live performers take to the stage in Victoria Park, including headliners Justin Maki Band and Sir Elton’s Greatest on July 22, and Priyanka on July 23.
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On July 24, the highly anticipated return of the 26th edition of the London Pride Parade will pass through central London and the Old East Village. Abdalla said more than 112 entries had been received by Pride London from organizations wishing to participate.
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The parade will start at noon on Dundas Street near the Western Fair District and proceed west down Dundas to Waterloo Street, north to Dufferin Avenue, west to Wellington then north to Central Avenue, according to organizers.
At Victoria Park, the festival’s Wind Down Show, presented by the Royal Imperial Sovereign Court of London and Southwestern Ontario, will begin at 2 p.m., followed by more live music throughout the after- noon, ending with headliner Bif Naked at 9 p.m.
Pride organizers had planned to hold the festival on Dundas Place, but later changed the location to Victoria Park to avoid construction along Ridout Street and to accommodate the high number of people expected.
“We kind of took a walk one day and I was watching it,” Abdalla said of Dundas Place.
“But I think, ‘This thing is going to be really huge this year, and I don’t think Dundas Place can accommodate the people who are going to come to Pride. I currently have 60 vendors, not counting the food vendors.
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Abdalla said the Pride London Festival would not have tightened security for the parade, but would for the park due to the number of vendors who signed up.
Planning for this year’s festival has been a challenge thanks to changing COVID-19 restrictions, the venue’s last-minute move and pressures from inflation, she said.
“I was talking to other Pride organizations… prices have doubled to get things this year, like fencing and stage, electrical stuff… like with sound and everything. Everything has doubled in price. It was difficult that way.
Like other local festivals, Pride London did not hold in-person rallies last year. Instead, the festival has gone digital, launching a local streaming service dedicated to LGBTQ2+ programming called Pride London Network. Interviews conducted at the festival by Stephen D’Amelio, Vice President of Pride London, will be added to the streaming network, Abdalla said.
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The most important thing is that people enjoy themselves and have fun, says Abdalla.
“We really, really went out of our way to make sure there was really good entertainment over the three days, and we want people to have fun,” she said.
“The beer garden is twice as big as it usually is. I made sure we had plenty of vendors so people could shop. We have eight food trucks this year. That’s what I want them to remember that they really enjoyed Pride this year.
More information and the full entertainment schedule can be found on the Pride London Festival website.
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