For three days in May and four in August, a massive celebration of the best in Asian cuisine and culture will be taking over Hamilton’s Bayfront Park.
This unmissable event is called the Lucky Lion Night Market: an annual summer festival that promises plenty of unique food, entertainment, vendors, activities, and more.
Free to attend, the Lucky Lion Market has been popping up in Hamilton since 2019 and was originally founded by Linh Vu and Julia Park through Sprout Organization: a Hamilton non-profit dedicated to youth outreach, leadership opportunities, and community engagement through events centering culture and food.
Lucky Lion certainly fits the bill. Linh and Julia’s event goes beyond your standard summer festival experience by factoring multicultural appreciation and education into its mission. Significant features of the proceedings include Pan-Asian culinary staples, historical traditions, and – as the festival’s centrepiece – live performances such as Chinese lion dancing.
This year, the festival is also launching its ‘Take Root’ Initiative, where all donations through red pocket and omikuji sales will benefit Toronto non-profit Hong Luck Kung Fu Association, who will be providing the lion dancing at this year’s event.
“We really want to highlight the importance of culture and preserving the past in the present,” they tell us.
“Chinese lion dancing is the perfect representation of this. Our official lion dance team this year is not only our main performers of the event this season, but our beneficiary. We look forward to showcasing how this old tradition can be modernized, and the importance of educating future generations.”
But how did it all begin? Lucky Lion Night Market came largely from Linh’s own imagination: as a Vietnamese-Canadian entrepreneur who grew up in Hamilton, he was inspired by long-defunct AquaFest at Bayfront Park in the early ‘90s. Linh was further motivated by the fact that he didn’t see enough local events of a similar scale, atmosphere, and impact that were more directly meaningful to him, his family, and his heritage.
Flash forward multiple decades, and – driven by Linh’s own experience as a food vendor and chef – Lucky Lion Night Market was officially born; fittingly, taking up space at Bayfront Park in the way AquaFest once did.
Originally named the Hamilton Harbourfront Night Market, the festival was a hit from the jump, and has since grown into a multi-city affair with festivals in Markham and London on top of the two here in Hamilton for 2023.
The May festival will be a more compact event, coinciding both with Mother’s Day weekend and Asian Heritage Month. An intimate and focused range of vendors and food purveyors will be present, offering up a “phase one” rendition of what Hamiltonians can expect out of the August effect to follow.
August’s night market will serve as “phase two:” double the size and jam-packed with things to see and do. The August market will feature over 100 diverse food items to try as well as a range of vendors and merchants, family friendly entertainment, community art, live karaoke, a 19+ bar with a DJ, photo opportunities, the vibrantly eye-catching Chinese lion dancing, and Omikuji: a paper fortune of Japanese-Buddhist origin.
Each festival will have plenty of their own unique features, and Linh and Julia hope locals will plan to attend both to get the fullest experience.
In just a few short years of existence, Lucky Lion Night Market has quickly become one of Hamilton’s most anticipated summer events. For Linh and Julia, getting to host it here in the Hammer at Bayfront Park carries extra significance; especially for Linh, whose family – like many Southeast Asian families at the time – came to Hamilton in 1990 for a fresh start as refugees and have held strong roots in the city ever since.
“The city has experienced so much growth within things like the food scene but there are also things that haven’t changed like Bayfront Park, where our event is hosted each year,” they say.
“The Bayfront always symbolized a place to relax, reflect and escape. Bringing the Lucky Lion Night Market to the Bayfront Park is special to us in so many ways and we hope our event ignites the same feelings of joy and belonging for our attendees.”
Images courtesy of Lucky Lion Night Market