Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams, has called for an “immediate suspension” of gatherings of 250 people or more due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
But that didn’t seem to bother bikers at the Friday the 13th motorcycle rally in Port Dover.
“We’re outside and it’s March,” said Joanne Hall, of Mississauga.
“How do you stop something like this? The bikers are going to come anyway. Look at the people in the restaurants. And the Port Dover Kinsmen – they’ve sold all their T-shirts.”
Normally sleepy at this time of year, Port Dover was hopping despite concerns over the virus. And despite the cool weather and icy wind, there was plenty of motorcycle action in town.
Conditions weren’t half-bad for a ride by mid-afternoon. The day was cloudy with sunny breaks, with a high of 6 C. It was windy along the lakeshore but not too breezy inland.
“You can’t stop this virus,” said Randy Hall, also of Mississauga. “It’s inconsequential to say you can even try. There’s a lot of fear-mongering going on in the news and on social media. Look what this event does for the local economy.”
A photo and caption of a motorcycle rider checking out Port Dover on Thursday prompted some on social media to question the accountability of those who would gather in Port Dover.
“The organizers of this are absolutely irresponsible,” posted Randal Oulton, of Toronto.
“It should have been cancelled. Money really does talk. They knew this kind of interdiction (from the medical officer) was not too far off.”
Oulton quoted chief medical officer and his warning about crowds: “I call on all Ontarians to recognize the risk of attending public gatherings and to practice social distancing as much as possible until further notice to manage the spread of illness,” the doctor said in a statement.
Rob Smith, of Alvinston, and friends watched the parade of motorcycles passing through Friday afternoon. All around, bars, restaurants and shops were doing a brisk business.
Smith said critics should be happy this rally occurred in winter when attendance is relatively low. He noted that summer rallies attract monster crowds that rival those of any motorcycle event in North America.
“This is smaller than any event I’ve seen,” Smith said. “There’s usually 100,000 people in town. There’s only about 500 bikes in town today instead of the usual 10,000 or 15,000.”
Scott MacDonald, of Simcoe, said he isn’t impressed with the cavalier response to public health warnings. Along with Oulton, he too is critical that revellers would congregate in Port Dover.
“No worries,” MacDonald posted on social media. “The PD (Port Dover) elite has declared that all that is needed to reduce the spread is a motorcycle mask and the ability to wash your hands.”
In fact, Friday the 13th events in Port Dover have spontaneously occurred since their inception in 1981. The motorcycle community knows that Friday the 13th is the appointed day to head to Port Dover and nature takes its course.
Norfolk County and associated groups lend structure to the event because the hordes are coming anyway. There are concerns a lack of structure might give rise to chaos, especially when the weather is pleasant and the crowds are huge.
As well, a well-attended rally in March is just what many merchants hoped for. Some haven’t seen much traffic since Christmas.
“Absolutely, it’s been a pleasant surprise,” said Jayne Laidlaw, owner of the Route 6 biker boutique on Main Street.
“My first customers this morning were 70 years old and from Welland. They started out in the rain. They were that determined to be here. I look out the window and it looks like a regular Friday the 13th to me.”