Pride festival pride

The new and improved New West Pride Festival had Ian Gould bursting with pride.

"What a weekend!" exclaimed the Royal City Pride Society president Monday morning.

"I'm basking in the after glow, I could say. It was over the top. We were just blown away about how receptive the community was."

The first four years of the festival were held over a three-day weekend including a gathering in Tipperary Park. This year it was expanded to nine days, concluding with a big party on Columbia Street on Saturday.

Columbia was jammed with people between Fourth and Sixth streets, enjoying sunshine and rainbows at the same time, and entertainment.

Pride street scene

An acrobat from the Vancouver Circus School performs above the crowds at the New Westminster Pride street party on Columbia on Saturday. Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

The street party got off to an inauspicious start when the main stage was late. It turned out the rental company delivered it to Columbia Street and Fourth Avenue in Vancouver, not Columbia and Fourth Street in New Westminster. That had organizers and spectators scrambling.

"It put a little delay in things. The funny part was everybody pulled together at that point, which actually made it a stronger community. Everybody understood and that made it all the better," said Gould.

Not only did the pride community benefit, so did Columbia Street businesses, said Gould. In particular, establishments like The Met Hotel, Heritage Grill and Columbia Theatre were able to extend their patios out on to the street and serve liquor.

Ian Gould

Pride Society president Ian Gould

The Pride society also staged several events during the festival week. For Gould, the atmosphere of inclusiveness during a special service at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church on Aug. 10 was empowering.

"It touched me personally. I wasn't expecting to have such an emotional response. It turned out to be a beautiful, beautiful afternoon," said Gould.

Some of the activities the festival lined up are already regular happenings in the community. The Tuesday night bowling league, for instance, had at least twice as many people show up.

"It was a lot of fun," said Gould.

It was a great festival, but also a lot of work, Gould said. But he believes the bar has been raised and the pride community and New Westminster will respond to meet or exceed it in the future.

"Now that we see what it entails, all of the tasks last year I was able to handle myself exploded this year, I can see I'm going to need three volunteers to get done what I had to get done," he said. "It's not going to be difficult for people to step up because they're going to look at this year and want to be a part of it."

He sees it becoming a destination festival. Although he doesn't think it will attract the 600,000 that Vancouver's pride parade attracts he does say "we can definitely blow the doors off of New Westminster every summer."

Gould, however, plans to step down from the board and serve in a more ambassadorial role.

"I've taken the festival to a certain level and now I want other people to step up and have it grow up and evolve. From what I saw on Saturday, we're going to have no problem."

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