Burgerfest aims to restore nostalgia

June 16 & 17
noon to midnight Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday

By Casey Lessard

Burgerfest is back after more than 20 years, but it’s not the event you knew back then (if you were around) – at least not yet. The Grand Bend Optimists are reviving the event that was once Grand Bend’s second busiest summer weekend and hope it will grow like the original did.
“The fact is that people have such fond memories of Burgerfest from the past,” says Judy Mason, one of the lead organizers with Sue Davis.
“Burgerfest came back to life because the Grand Bend Optimists wanted to raise money for the club. Burgerfest seemed to be a perfect fit because in years back it was a successful event run by the chamber of commerce (until the mid-80s). It’s time to bring it back and we hope that the community will get behind it. All the money will go back into the community for youth related events in town.”
The event was traditionally held the Father’s Day weekend, and that tradition continues this year. The goal is to create an annual event that will benefit local businesses and service clubs in the shoulder season.
“It’s going to be a clean fun family event and we’re going to be shut down by midnight,” Mason says. “Plus, it’s run by a service club that puts the money back into the community.”
The first Burgerfests started as a way to raise money for the chamber of commerce and, like the reincarnation, it started small.
“It was something new for us and we had the town behind us,” says Nick Carter, who was president of the chamber for many of the years Burgerfest ran in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. “We had all kinds of people coming in to help with food and anything else we needed. It started out fairly small, but it blossomed. Probably around 15,000 at its peak, which back then was a lot.”
Mason hopes that figure will return – this year’s beer tent can accommodate 500 people at a time.
“We will definitely draw a young crowd, but we’ll also draw the baby boomers who like the type of music we’re playing this weekend. On the Sunday, with jazz and blues, it’s not catering just to the younger crowd.
“The bed races were a huge draw,” she says of the original festival, “and the number one attraction was the buffalo burgers and the beer tent. We were surprised to get the permission to put a tent up on the beach, and we’re hoping to watch it grow. The number one concern is getting the bed races back into the programming.”
Besides helping the Optimists and its programming, Mason says such an event is good for the town and businesses.
“We’re hoping it will benefit the town through accommodations, sales of food downtown, clothing sales.”