Friday the 13th means this little fishing port on Lake Erie will be invaded by up to 100,000 motorcycles.
It started in 1981 when Chris Simons and approximately two dozen of his fellow motorcycle riders gathered at the Commercial Hotel on the main street in Port Dover to toast Friday the 13th. They had such a good time, they decided to do it each time Friday falls on the 13th.
Over the years their little gathering has grown. Ontario Provincial Police say it’s hard to count all the bikes each time, but they estimate up to 140,000 have arrived at this port when Friday the 13th arrives on a warm, clear day.
Some years, the 13th falls on a Friday several times and not always during good weather. Some years it never arrives. There is only one this year — May 13.
Bikers come from all over North America, even Europe. It is a pleasant mixture of hard rock bikers and retired accountants and dentists. There’s a festival atmosphere; bike gangs are not allowed to wear their colours. However, if the sun is shining there’ll be more exposed skin than is normally found in downtown Port Dover.
The whole community turns out to volunteer during the day and the community brings in enough cash to cover all its charity needs for a year.
“It’s certainly the biggest one-day motorcycling gathering in Canada and maybe in the world,” says Keith Swarts, a past president of the PD13committee that organizes the day. Swarts, a local real estate agent, doesn’t even own a motorcycle.
Port Dover (population 6,387) is the Cape Cod of Ontario with its great beach, boardwalk, perch dinners, quaint shops and home to what was once the world’s largest freshwater fishing fleet.
The downtown core is closed to cars on the 13th. Visiting cars are routed to farm fields and the occupants are ferried downtown by the Kinsmen Club using school buses. Motorcycles only on Main Street, which resembles a mile-long art show.
Many of the bikes are elaborately dressed in gleaming chrome with paint jobs that could hang in art galleries. There are entertainment and beer tents assembled around town by local social clubs and local merchants. Leather fashions and paraphernalia are sold from temporary shops and tents.
By midnight most bikes are gone and by 6 a.m. the next day you would hardly know the port town has experienced yet another invasion.