This weekend’s gloomy weather conditions in Halifax may have led to the cancellation of both the Canada Day fireworks and an aerial display from the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, but it had no impact on suppressing the appetite for baby back ribs.
Tens of thousands of residents made their way to the Dartmouth waterfront this weekend in hopes of getting their hands on some of the tastiest ribs in the business during the ninth annual Harbourside Ribfest, put on by the Rotary Club of Halifax Harbour, a charity group based in the city. The event kicked off on Friday.
In addition to the bustling atmosphere curated by five separate rib trucks, local vendors, and live music — the four-day food festival aims to offer more to the public than just delicious eats.
Ashley Butt, chair of the Harbourside Ribfest Committee, said the goal of the event is also to fundraise money for local charities.
“It helps us do the things that we do,” she said. “We bring the money in and then we put the money back through the community.”
According to the event’s official website, the reoccurring event, which takes place this year at its new Alderney Landing location, has been “extremely successful in raising over $500,000 for various charities over the past seven years”. All profits generated from the event, including fees for attendees, vendors, and alcohol purchases, will be donated to a variety of local and international charities.
As for this weekend’s turnout, Butt said it’s been busy.
“There were about 20,000 people through here yesterday (Saturday) … we were full from about 1 o’clock onwards for the whole day,” she said, acknowledging that although “most people do love ribs”, alternate options are also being provided by vendors including chicken, pulled pork, sausage, and a variety of sauces to sample.
Some local, non-rib vendors were also on site serving up coffee, desserts, and baked goods.
Butt noted that most ‘rib fests’ across the country are fundraisers organized by other rotary groups. There are about 35,000 rotary clubs worldwide.
She said the whole event is volunteer-run. “We’re actually one of the largest entirely volunteer-run festivals in the entire province,” she said.
Mitchell Russell, the owner of Pistol Pete’s Smokehouse, has been travelling all the way from Oklahoma City, California to dish out barbecued ribs in Dartmouth since 2018.
“My business partner, we call him ‘the godfather of Ribfest’, brought this (idea) over to Canada and started expanding,” he said, adding that his crew hasn’t passed up an opportunity to return to the East Coast since their first trip.
“The community’s so strong out here,” Russell said. “It’s just fantastic with the amount of feedback and how grateful people are. It makes our job easy when we’re putting out a good product and we’re seeing the rewards of it every year.”
He said the friendly competition amongst ribbers continues to encourage vendors to produce the best product for attendees.
“Everyone’s trying to put out the best food possible in the best environment,” Russell said. “It is a show at the end of the day as well, we try to provide some entertainment.”
Mar Hounsell, an attendee and volunteer for the festival, said the back ribs he picked up from “Billy Bones BBQ”, one of the vendors, were “finger-licking good.” He said he was motivated to help out with this year’s festival because he thought it’d be a good opportunity to do some community work.
“It’s a big thing around here, it’s a good energy, good environment,” he said.
When asked what his favourite part about the annual food festival was, Hounsell’s answer was simple. “The people and the ribs. You can’t go wrong with it.”
Other rib trucks included Camp 31 from Brewton, Alabama, and Crabby’s BBQ Shack from London, Ontario.
Local musicians Jon Hines, Paul Brushett, and Maurice Aucoin were amongst some of the acts taking the stage to offer live entertainment during the weekend occasion.
Butts said Monday will be the last day of this year’s Harbourside Ribfest, which will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. before they close up shop in hopes of returning to celebrate ten years in 2024.
“We’ll hopefully be back next year for the tenth annual,” she smiled.
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