Port Dover, Canada, is a sleepy town nestled against the northern shore of Lake Erie, just around the corner from Lake Ontario and about twenty minutes south of Brantford. Its population is maybe 3,500, which may rise as high as 10,000 in the summer, when children come home from college and a few tourists come to enjoy Port Dover’s famed perch dinners and swim at Port Dover’s sandy beach.
All this changes on Friday the thirteenth. If you are a motorcycle enthusiast, Port Dover is the place to be on Friday the 13th, rain, snow, or shine.
In good weather, Friday the 13th never draws fewer than 100,000 bikers. On a beautiful summer day, more than 150,000 bikers can pour into town. Every year brings more bikers, so many that some Port Dover streets are closed to car traffic for the day. If it’s during the school year, even the schools close for the day. Everywhere you look in Port Dover, the streets are lined with bikes from one end to the other.
It’s not just about the bikes, although thousands of personalized motorcycles parked within easy walking distance of each other is nothing to sneeze at. It’s more than the vendors or even all the buskers and live events, although all of that is part of what makes the Port Dover gathering Canada’s largest bike rally. Commemorative t-shirts sell out early!
Above all, it’s about peaceful camaraderie among motorcycle enthusiasts of all stripes. There have never been any serious incidents at the Port Dover rallies. For this event, the municipal enforcement officers carry lists of local bylaws, not guns. Casual bikers, Christian bikers, and patch-wearing Hell’s Angels hang out together. Bikers come from as far away as Australia, Great Britain, and even China. Even when the odd t-shirt says “Fighting solves everything,” it never comes to that in Port Dover. It’s like motorcycle heaven.
It’s Friday the 13th, so you’re going to see weird stuff. Where else can you see people in Viking helmets, girls in bunny tails, guys in thongs, topless women, and Christian banners reading “Those who ride for God always reach their destination,” all together within a few city blocks? (Yes, it’s legal to go topless in Ontario. Just keep it in the event areas!)
Appropriately for a Canadian event, the Port Dover Friday the 13th celebration doesn’t shut down in winter. There won’t be as many bikers, but there’ll still be a couple of thousand people coming in, unless the weather is really bad. You’ll see lots of Santa hats, reindeer antlers, bikes sporting Christmas lights, and t-shirts reading “Where’s The Heat?” At least one group of local bikers regularly do a charity toy run when it gets closer to Christmas.
Considering that the Friday the 13th motorcycle rallies only began in 1981, the 50th anniversary t-shirts might be a bit comfusing. However, it makes sense when you count the number of rallies, rather than the number of years. Every year has at least one Friday the 13th. Some have as many as three. The Friday the 13th in August 2010 was the 50th time the gathering has been held since its founding, when a couple of dozen guys thought it would be a cool idea to hang out together in a bar on Friday the 13th.
For a few local bikers, the Port Dover gathering is a day trip. Most stay over instead. The region has lots of hotels, B&Bs, cottages, and campgrounds. On a Friday the 13th in the summer, they’ll all be booked solid.
Each Friday the 13th, the Port Dover Kinsmen Club opens up camping at the Port Dover Kin Park, at the east end of Port Dover on Highway 6. Camping fees include a courtesy shuttle between the campground and downtown Port Dover on Friday the 13th, as well as live entertainment, food, and a beer garden on site. The campground usually stays open between Friday the 13th and the closest weekend. The cost is $20 per person per night.
The Port Dover Lions Club runs a campground at Silver Lake Park, just a five minute walk from downtown Port Dover. A Friday night beef and chicken barbeque will be available at the pavilion, while hot breakfast is available at the nearby farmer’s market. Due to city bylaws, no campfires are allowed in the park. Rates here run at $10 per person per night for tenters, with RVs costing an extra $20. All Kinsmen and Lions profits go straight back into the community.
Until 2010, the PD13.com committee handled all vendor approvals, assigned spots, and assisted the Norfolk County government with licensing. It also worked with local property owners, and united local non-profit organizations, service clubs, business establishments, professions, and government bodies to help financially with all community endeavours and offset any extra costs associated with the bike rally. Starting in 2011, this role will be filled by the Norfolk County Community Services Department.
Getting to Port Dover’s a snap. The major 401 highway runs straight from Windsor/Detroit through London to Toronto and all the way up to Montreal in Quebec. Coming in from the east along the 401, you’ll want to turn off when you’re near Brantford/Hamilton, just west of Toronto at exit 235. That takes you to Highway 403 heading east. From there, turn south at the Blue Line Road stop lights. The Blue Line Road takes you to Highway 6. Turn east, and follow #6 straight into Port Dover.
If you’re coming from the west, say Kitchener-Waterloo, you’ll want to take Highway 24 south instead. If you’re coming from even farther west, take Highway 19 or 59 south until you run into #24.
Alternately, just follow all the other bikers. If you’re on the 401, the 403, the QEW, or any other route mentioned here, sooner or later you’ll see a group of bikers go by. By the time you get to #6, the bike traffic will be constant. The main road over the bridge into downtown Port Dover will be very busy!
Some are already calling Port Dover’s Friday the 13th bike rally the Sturgis of the north. At this rate, you’d think it’s only a matter of time before we’ll start calling Sturgis the Port Dover of the south, but not really. Port Dover’s got its own vibe. We like it just the way it is, and by the looks of it, so do an awful lot of other bikers. Come to Port Dover this Friday the 13th, and discover it for yourself.