BY LINDA MONDOUX
You know you have a successful event on your hands when the big brewers are lining up to join the party.
It was a beer hangover of sorts that prompted the committee organizing the wildly popular Friday the 13th motorcycle rally in Port Dover to call it quits earlier this year, telling Norfolk County council that without control of the beer concessions, the volunteer group just couldn’t make enough money to cover expenses for the event, held every Friday the 13th winter, spring and fall.
The community, council was told, was no longer working together.
Seems with Friday the 13th celebrating its 50th event in 2010, so many groups wanted to be part of the big celebration on Aug. 13 that some bypassed the organizing committee and negotiated their own concession deals. The organizing committee, which had negotiated a bulk purchase deal with Molson Coors Canada, now faced competition from Labatt Brewing Company, which was brought in by two other groups anxious to satisfy the 100,000 thirsty visitors, including about 15,000 motorcycle enthusiasts, who came out to party that day.
The committee’s mass resignation sent shockwaves through Port Dover, the Lake Erie fishing port where motorcycle lovers have been gathering every Friday the 13th since 1981 to celebrate bikes and hoist a few beers with friends, old and new. The one-day event brings in millions in tourist dollars to the community, with locals joining visitors to party in the village’s main streets, which are closed to all but motorcycles for the occasion.
The resignation news quickly brought the community back together, with the Port Dover Board of Trade and local service clubs, led by the Kinsmen and Lions, uniting as a team and vowing the show will go on. As luck would have it, there wasn’t much time to organize: the first — and only — Friday the 13th in 2011 falls in May.
Norfolk County’s community services department will act as facilitator for the May 13 rally. The municipality is in charge of event planning — from traffic to fire to emergency response services — while the board of trade is managing the Friday the 13th website
and working with the service clubs to ensure there’s food, drink, entertainment, souvenirs, camping and shuttle rides available.
“The average person won’t notice any change on the ground,” Kevin Lichach, general manager of community services, told MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “The big changes are behind the scenes — who’s managing the beer, things like that.”
First biker bash back in 1981
The Friday the 13th tradition had its humble beginnings back in 1981, when local resident Chris Simons and about 25 fellow motorcycle enthusiast friends gathered at a Port Dover hotel for a little party. The date was Nov. 13, and it happened to be a Friday. Everyone had so much fun that it was agreed they would get together every Friday the 13th.
The party grew and grew, attracting bikers from across North America, often jamming up customs at border crossings.
When the stars line up, there’s more than one motorcycle party to circle on the calendar. For example, 2009 saw three Friday the 13ths: in February, March and November. The largest crowds gather when Friday the 13th lands on a warm and sunny day during the summer, and the party spills over onto Port Dover’s fabulous beach.
What can be expected for the 51st Friday the 13th this May?
“We’re hoping the sun will come up here,” says Lichach, referring to the rainy, wet weather that has plagued all of Ontario for the past month. “We’re expecting 80,000-plus visitors, unless it snows. But a little bit of rain won’t stop the motorcycle enthusiast. For many of them, it will be the first road trip of the season, so they won’t want to miss it.”
While Friday the 13th is promoted as a one-day event, many visitors will make their way to Port Dover on the Thursday to scout out a prime location to show off their bikes and to set up tents. And while the party itself can seem a little over-the-top to the uninitiated — residents need passes just to get to and from home — Lichach says come Saturday at 6 a.m., “you would hardly know an event of this magnitude had taken place the day before.” The streets will be open to traffic, the souvenir stands and beer tents will be put away, the garbage will be picked up and all those bikers will be back on their cycles, out looking for the next adventure. Port Dover, dubbed the “jewel of Ontario’s South Coast,” will be back to normal.
If you’ve never experienced Friday the 13th Port Dover-style, it’s not too late to plan your May visit, with or without a motorcycle. Read our Port Dover community profile
before you go.
And in case there is any doubt about the future of Friday the 13th in Port Dover, the event website lists party dates up to Jan. 13, 2040, when the 100th motorcycle rally will be held. Mark your calendars!
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — April 2011