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Toronto mayor’s annual ‘Ford Fest’ barbecue set for a makeover

A man wears a Ford Nation t-shirt at Mayor Rob Ford's barbecue, which people were calling "Ford Fest" at his mother's house in Etobicoke on Friday, September 2, 2011.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is inviting one and all to his family's annual backyard shindig on Friday, but security concerns and swelling crowds mean this year's gathering will be the end of "Ford Fest" in its current form, his brother is predicting.

For decades, the Ford family has held a yearly cookout on the grounds of the Etobicoke home of the mayor's mother – long the site of political get togethers, including an invitation-only garden party Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended last summer.

The family's annual Ford Fest began in the 1990s and has evolved into an open-house for the entire city. "All of #Toronto is welcome to Ford Fest. Please join us @ 15 Weston Wood Road 6 PM this Friday," reads a recent tweet on the mayor's account.

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Last year, the event was held on a rainy Friday at the start of the Labour Day weekend, but still drew thousands of guests who choked the parking lot of a nearby plaza with their cars and lined up to enter the muddy grounds of the Ford home at the end of a leafy dead end street. A band that included city councillors entertained the crowd, who were served drinks and burgers by the swimming pool and watched as Councillor Doug Ford's daughters soared into the air as part of a cheer-leading display.

"We've hired a security firm. We've hired a couple [paid duty police officers] and we'll see what happens," Councillor Ford said on the eve of the event, expected to attract as many as 5,000 over the course of the night.

Besides the sheer numbers, the Etobicoke councillor said he is concerned about the "crazies out there" who might disrupt the event.

"If they want to come and cause trouble – we have had it for 20 years and never had a problem, never had an incident. We welcome everyone. If they come in with placards and start protesting, they won't be there," he said.

Councillor Ford said his remarks were not directed at a group of Pride supporters who are organizing on Facebook to attend the barbeque – a response to the mayor's failure to go to Pride events.

"Rob is like a lightning rod out there," Councillor Ford said, explaining his concern about possible protests. "People anywhere involved in politics have never seen anything like it."

Either way, he said the days of holding the party in the back yard are numbered. "We are going to have to move it somewhere else,' he said. "People don't understand – it's a massive, massive undertaking."

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