FRIDAY THE 13TH ‘ZOO’
140,000 squeeze into Port Dover for biker fest
This weekend’s Friday the 13th motorcycle rally lived up to expectations and was possibly the largest in the event’s 37-year history.
“It’s 12 noon and our crowd estimate is at 140,000,” said Norfolk OPP Const. Ed Sanchuk. It’s the highest number ever given by authorities for the event, and that was just by midday.
Port Dover’s streets were clogged with chrome-covered machinery packed at the curb on both sides of Main Street and along St. George and St. Andrew streets, about 15 kilometres of motorcycles sideby-side with even more filling side streets and other minor thoroughfares.
“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 about 2,000 per cent. In partnership with the Norfolk OPP, Norfolk Fire & Rescue and Norfolk EMS, the county set up a war room at the local Lions Community Centre lined with video screens streaming aerial and street-level images of what was happening around town and at the approaches. Hundreds of OPP officers from across Ontario were 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 police were out in force in case anything went terribly wrong. “We have a large police presence,” Sanchuk said, adding this involves helicopters and drones as part of the surveillance effort. “So far, everyone is acting in a mature, safe and responsible fashion.” Norfolk EMS knew conditions would be hot and muggy, so it also had a stepped-up presence, with 40 paramedics on standby and on the lookout for heat stroke and other heat-related conditions. They were looking for signs of dehydration and had strategically situated cooling stations. Sarah Townsend, ambulance manager in Norfolk, said paramedics were also watching for signs of extreme intoxication and were on heightened alert for collisions and crashes across the county given the high volume of motorcycle traffic. Longtime observers of the event explained the record turnout was in part due to its timing in July, when the weather tends to be good and many are on vacation. Also, the next Friday the 13th party is 14 months away in September 2019.
“It’s the bike event with no bike events,” said Andrew “Big Mark” Mitchell of Ohsweken, with a laugh.
“There’s no bike rodeo or swap meet. Nothing but beer and Tshirts, he explained, adding, “It’s a good waste of time.”
Thousands of bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts crowded the streets of Port Dover yesterday for the latest Friday the 13th gathering, an event started in 1981 by just a few friends.