In 1981, a small group of riders congregated in the town of Port Dover, on the north shore of Lake Erie, and reportedly had such an epic night of tomfoolery, they decided to do it again. Rather than make it an annual pilgrimage, they decided to assemble on the next Friday the 13th. This time it was larger and more rambunctious.
And so it went until last July when an estimated 140,000 people visited the town, which normally has a population of 6,000 people.
As Port Dover’s Friday 13th event has grown, so too has the presence and involvement of the Ontario Provincial Police. Understandably. Put a hundred thousand people in a place with limited exits, add sunshine, booze, drugs and motorcycles, mix thoroughly, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for mayhem.
This additional police presence was not appreciated by some, who spent the past year taking to their social media soapboxes to decry threats to personal freedom; they criticized the emergence of a police state while spreading all kinds of rumours in an attempt to sabotage the event. Fictitious posts warned of parking fees and fines, threats of bike towing and roadside checks. None of which were rooted in reality.
What did change for the 66th installment was an amendment to parking locations and traffic flow, as well as the vendor application process, which included a criminal background check. The first two were to alleviate congestion, while the check was to prevent outlaw groups from selling their support apparel. The police wanted to reduce the financial contributions to groups involved in nefarious activities. This added fuel to the fire of those who already opposed the increased levels of policing.
Some 5,000 red ‘Support 81’ shirts where printed and given free to attendees with the caveat that they had to put them on. And they did. Most probably didn’t know that “81” refers to the eighth and first letters of the alphabet, which are H and A, for Hells Angels. And my guess is that most of them just wanted a free shirt. People love free stuff. After working in promotions for years, I can tell you that people will take anything if it’s free.
Among the dissidents was a group named Move Over Dover, which used the opportunity to start their own nearby event called Ipperwash Bikefest. More than 600 people identified their attendance on the event’s Facebook page, so the local OPP planned an increased presence there as well. The public was warned of a zero-tolerance policy for intoxication and impaired driving.
Still big, but not too big
The forecast called for rain and there was periodic precipitation throughout the day. While the weather didn’t exactly cooperate, the other issues definitely kept people away. This year’s attendance was estimated by police to be roughly 70,000 people.
This was still a pretty big event, and I actually preferred it to previous, larger gatherings. Instead of being crammed in like sardines after waiting an hour to get into town, there was ample parking, no lineups for beer gardens, and even seating available on patios. It made for a much more civilized experience overall.
Of course, there were plenty of interesting motorcycles and people on hand, which is what Dover is all about. The number of vendors was certainly down but there was no shortage of opportunities to buy a T-shirt if you weren’t among those who got one for free. No word yet on the economic impact of the lower attendance.
The next Friday 13th falls in December, and the winter events are naturally light on attendance. It then falls again on March and November of 2020, so there won’t be one that lands in the summer until August 2021.
I approached some OPP officers to ask if attendees were behaving and one of them smiled and said, “So far.” In the name of balanced, unbiased reporting [That’s our CMG guy! – Ed.] I walked up to a group of full patch one-percenters congregated around their bikes, smoking. I asked if they had thought about boycotting the event, and one firmly responded, “No.” Then I asked if they were having fun, but I was met with a stern, stony glare, so decided not to push my luck any farther.
Controversy is nothing new for PD13. While many residents despise the takeover of their otherwise sleepy town, I’ve been told by those who embrace it that they make more money in one day than they do the rest of the year.
I certainly can’t say it’s over for Dover, but I’m sure people will be keeping a close eye to see where it goes from here. In the meantime, it would be wise for organizers to be more proactive with communicating information, to help separate fact from fiction for future events.