Pride London Festival makes long-awaited in-person return on Thursday

The London Pride Parade in 2019. Mark Spowart/Getty Images

Downtown London, Ont. will be buzzing this week and next as the Pride London Festival makes a long-awaited return after a two-year COVID-19 pandemic pause.

The annual event celebrating the local LGBTQ2+ community kicks off July 14 and runs until July 24 with festivities including exhibits, live entertainment and more, capped off by a parade on the festival’s last day.

Pride London Festival, now in its 42nd year, is the latest festival to make a return to the downtown since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Read more: London, Ont. counselling centre to offer LGBTQ2 workshops in first Pride festival appearance

“It’s so exciting. Very, very exciting to have everybody together to celebrate who they are, their individuality, and to come together for the whole weekend and listen to the music, relax, talk to each other and celebrate,” said Deb Abdalla, Pride London Festival’s president, in an interview Wednesday.

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“I’m looking forward to going to all the events and meeting the people there, enjoying myself, talking to … old friends that I haven’t seen for a long time.”

The festival will get underway Thursday night with the 31st Annual 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 Night will go ahead at Hyland Cinema at 7 p.m.

On Friday there will be a Pride Shabbat Dinner at the London Jewish Community Centre 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 of London and live music on Sunday as part of Sunday Morning Joy: Pride Edition at Aeolian Hall. A full list of events can be found on the Pride London website.

Pride’s biggest festivities will come 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.

Read more: Tens of thousands throng downtown Toronto as Pride parade makes in person return

On July 24, the highly-anticipated return of the 26th Annual London Pride Parade will wind through downtown London and the Old East Village. Abdalla said more than 112 registrations had been received by Pride London from organizations looking to take part.

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The parade will begin at noon on Dundas Street near the Western Fair District and travel west down Dundas to Waterloo Street, north up to Dufferin Avenue, west over to Wellington Street and 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 get underway at 2 p.m., followed by more live music throughout the afternoon, wrapping up with headliner Bif Naked at 9 p.m.

Pride organizers had planned to hold the festival on Dundas Place, but later switched the location back to Victoria Park to avoid construction along Ridout Street, and to accommodate the high number of people expected to attend.

“We kind of did a walk around one day and I was looking at it,” Abdalla said of Dundas Place.

“But I’m thinking, ‘This thing is going to be really huge this year, and I don’t think Dundas Place can accommodate the people are going to be coming to Pride. I have, right now, 60 vendors, not including the food vendors.”

Read more: U.S. Pride parades march on with new urgency: ‘We’re here to make a statement’

Abdalla said Pride London Festival would not have beefed up security for the parade but would for the park because of the number of vendors who have signed up.

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Planning for this year’s festival has been a challenge thanks to changing COVID-19 restrictions, the last-minute venue move, and pressures brought on by inflation, she said.

“I was talking to other Pride organizations … the prices doubled to get things this year, like fencing and the stage, electrical stuff … like with sound and everything. Everything has doubled in price. It’s been difficult that way.”

Like other local festivals, Pride London did not hold in-person gatherings last year. Instead, the festival went digital, launching a local streaming service dedicated to LGBTQ2+ programming called the Pride London Network. Interviews conducted at the festival by Stephen D’Amelio, Pride London’s vice president, will be added to the streaming network, Abdalla said.

Read more: U.K.’s first Pride parade returns in London on 50th anniversary

The biggest thing is that people have fun and enjoy themselves, Abdalla says.

“We really, really went out of our way to make sure there was really good entertainment all three days, and we want people to have fun,” she said.

“The beer garden is twice the size it usually is. I made sure that we had a lot of vendours so people could shop around. We have eight food trucks this year. That’s what I want them to take away that they really enjoyed Pride this year.”

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More information and full entertainment lineups can be found on the Pride London Festival website.

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