London festival: After a rainy start to the weekend Sunfest drew more festival goers than ever, said its organizers

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Mother Nature couldn’t put a damper on Sunfest.

“In the end it’s so satisfying to see the happiness in people’s faces and how the community has beautifully embraced this event,” said Alfredo Caxaj, executive director of Sunfest, as the festival came to a close on Sunday.

For the second straight year a downpour ended the festival early on Friday night.

In response Caxaj believes the festival had its strongest Saturday ever, estimating that 25,000 people packed Victoria Park during its peak on the festival’s second-last day.

“It was absolutely amazing, the number of people was unbelievable,” Caxaj said.

The number of guests in the park this year may have been a record for Sunfest. Caxaj said unique visits to Victoria Park eclipsed 110,000 people and total visits well surpassed the average of 200,000 that come to the festival each year. An all-time high of 450 volunteers worked at this year’s festival.

About 250 vendors — 65 food exhibitors and 185 selling art, crafts, clothing and more — squeezed into London’s downtown park over the weekend.

Adrian Boucek has been coming to Sunfest every year since he moved to London in 2011. Mya Demelo, Boucek’s wife, has been coming for as long as she can remember. They sat together in the shade at Victoria Park on Sunday. They agreed the performers, artisans and food vendors at this year’s festival were as diverse as they had seen.

“Now when you walk through there’s Nigerian food and Vietnamese food. I find there’s a lot more selection,” Demelo said.

“Even the people walking around are a lot more diverse,” Boucek said.

Thomeki Dube raved about the festival’s diversity. His musical group Black Umfolosi performed at the festival for the fifth time. Black Umfolosi has spent most of their 35-year career touring the globe, but they said a stop at their favourite Canadian festival always stands out.

“By bringing different cultures from all over, Sunfest has brought some life into London, Ontario. It is now a beautiful, diversified community with a wide variety of entertainments,” Dube said.

The group had audiences of hundreds clapping and dancing along to their African a cappella on Saturday and Sunday.

Hane Seyam brought her ceramics business Eastern Spendor from Kitchener to Sunfest.

Last year was her first year at the festival.

“I go to Ottawa and Montreal and London’s fest is the best,” Seyam said. “I like the atmosphere. The music, the food, the vendors, they’ve become my friends. Everything is nice.”

“When you see the masses of people coming to the festival — people of different colours and races and you see the enjoyment of people that’s when you feel there’s a need to continue doing this and we feel strongly encouraged by that,” Caxaj said.

As Sunfest came to a close Caxaj already had his mind on the 25th anniversary edition of the festival two years from now in 2019. He said that may be the right time to expand from Victoria Park into the streets of downtown.

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