Granddaddy of biker bashes rolls into Port Dover
PORT DOVER - This weekend's Friday the 13th motorcycle rally has lived up to expectations and is possibly the largest in the event's 37-year history.
"Right now it's 12 noon and our crowd estimate is at 140,000," said Const. Ed Sanchuk, spokesperson for the Norfolk OPP.
Previous rallies have approached 120,000 but authorities have never before gone on record with 140,000. And it is not at all clear that attendance had peaked at the time of the interview.
Evidence for a record or near-record attendance is evident on Main Street and the two main side streets in Port Dover. Motorcycles are packed at the curb on both sides of Main and on both sides of St. George Street and St. Andrew Street.
That translates into about 15 kilometres of motorcycles side by side without taking into account infilling on side streets and other minor thoroughfares in town.
"It's crazy," said Heather Shipman, a T-shirt vendor downtown. "And busy, busy, busy. It's a zoo."
Crowds this big are a challenge for authorities in a county with a population of 63,000. Port Dover itself has a population of 6,000 so a game plan is required when this rises by 2,300 percent.
The room is lined with video screens streaming aerial and street-level images of what's happening all over town and at the approaches.
Hundreds of OPP officers from across Ontario are in town overseeing everything from traffic safety to undercover surveillance of outlaw biker gangs. The Friday the 13th event has a long record of calm and good fellowship but the police are out in force in case something goes terribly wrong.
By Friday afternoon, there were two crashes to report. One involved a motorcycle in Simcoe while two motorcycles collided in Port Dover Thursday night. Police report there were minor injuries in both.
"We have a large police presence," Sanchuk said, adding this involves helicopter and drones as part of the surveillance effort. "So far, everyone is acting in a mature, safe and responsible fashion."
Norfolk paramedics also have a stepped-up presence. Under normal circumstances, a single ambulance is stationed in town but this Friday there are three.
Norfolk EMS knew conditions would be hot and muggy so the 40 paramedics on standby are on the lookout for heat stroke and other heat-related conditions. They are looking for signs of dehydration and have situated cooling stations at strategic sites around town.
Sarah Townsend, ambulance manager in Norfolk, said paramedics are also watching for signs of extreme intoxication and are on heightened alert for collisions and crashes across the county given the high volume of motorcycle traffic.
Long-time observers of the event cited several circumstances that pointed toward a record turnout for this weekend's rally.
There is the fact that the event is occurring in July when the weather tends to be good and many are on vacation.
There is also the consideration that the next party is 14 months away in September, 2019. That too promises to be huge given the lengthy interval in between.
"It's the bike event with no bike events," laughed Andrew "Big Mark" Mitchell of Ohsweken. "There's no bike rodeo or swap meet. Nothing but beer and T-shirts.
"I'm here for the short shorts and the sexy women. It's a good waste of time."
Follow the day's events here, with Simcoe Reformer reporters in the field.