PORT DOVER — Despite a 12-minute shower and threatening skies, this year’s Friday the 13th motorcycle celebration was yet another huge success.
Almost every street and cul-de-sac within a mile of the downtown core was lined both sides with angle-parked motorcycles of every brand, size, colour and description. The downtown core was a sea of motorcycles and people seemed to be blending into one slow-moving mass.
This one-day event takes the population of the small, quiet, lakeside town of Port Dover, from 6,387 to close to 140,000, according to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) estimates.
The humble beginnings of what has turned into one of the biggest biker rallies in Canada, is a legend in itself.
It all began with a party at the old Commercial Hotel, now called Angelo’s, on Friday, Nov. 13th, 1981. That party attracted about 25 biker friends. After a few wobbly-pops, and a whole lot of fun, Chris Simons and his slightly tipsy friends decreed that it should become a tradition that they meet every Friday the13th from then on. And they did. Friends would invite friends, friends of friends would invite their friends and now the friends of Friday 13th are numbered in the 100’s of thousands.
Some have ridden for days to be there from the U.S., and even a few European visitors booked their holidays around it. There are still more who come every time, buy a tee-shirt — with the date on it — maybe order an Arbor Dog and an Orange Glow, then turn right around and go home, just to say, “I was there.”
As it grew, some individuals were less that happy with the leather clad and sometimes loud guests. But in time those who were afraid found nothing to be afraid of and started having some fun with it themselves. Shopkeepers and artisans saw the economic benefits almost right away. It took a little while longer to convince council, but one cannot ignore the benefits to the bottom line, or the goodwill and notoriety this event brings to their little town. Even Canadian comedian Rick Mercer filmed a segment for his CBC show there.
“It is an event that has grown from humble beginnings to unexpected proportions,” says Port Dover Mayor, Dennis Travale. “People from across Ontario, the country, North America and the world drop in to experience the camaraderie, fellowship, and good times.”
Now, after 35 years, many of those who ride into town are successful businessmen, doctors, lawyers and university professors who blow the dust off the Harley that sat under a tarp just waiting for this moment, pull on some leathers, crank up Steppenwolf on the stereo and ride.
Police have learned not to sweat the small stuff on this day and to just make it safe for everyone.
“No, we don’t usually have any issues,” said a smiling veteran OPP officer enjoying the day and directing traffic downtown. “Everyone is here to have a good time, that’s all.”
One reason for the extra large turnout this past Friday was that it was the only Friday 13th this year and there will not another one in good weather until 2018. Last year there were three and next year there will be two, one in January and the other in October.