OPP peg Friday the 13th crowd at 140,000 in Port Dover

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(vid-photo gallery) --- This weekend's Friday the 13th motorcycle rally has lived up to expectations and is possibly the largest in the event's 37-year history.

PORT DOVER – This weekend’s Friday the 13th motorcycle rally has lived up to expectations and is possibly the largest in the event’s 37-year history.

“Right now it’s 12 noon and our crowd estimate is at 140,000,” said Const. Ed Sanchuk, spokesperson for the Norfolk OPP.

Previous rallies have approached 120,000 but authorities have never before gone on record with 140,000. And it is not at all clear that attendance had peaked at the time of the interview.

Indeed, at 1 p.m. Friday, authorities closed a section of the downtown to all traffic — including motorcycles — due to the crush of humanity.

In the same advisory, the Norfolk OPP said all new arrivals in Port Dover — including motorcycle riders — should park on the outskirts of town and take advantage of the designated shuttle service into the core.

Evidence for a record or near-record attendance was evident on Main Street and the two main side streets in Port Dover around noon. Motorcycles were packed at the curb on both sides of Main and on both sides of St. George Street and St. Andrew Street.

That translates into about 15 kilometres of motorcycles side-by-side without taking into account infilling on side streets and other nooks and crannies in town.

“It’s crazy,” said Heather Shipman, a T-shirt vendor downtown. “And busy, busy, busy. It’s a zoo.”

Everyone else had much the same reaction, including Angela Molendyk of Kitchener.

“I was stunned,” she said. “I knew it would be busy and big but I wasn’t expecting it like this. It just keeps going. It’s amazing how many different bikes and people are here. I’m just amazed. I really am.”

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 spikes 2,300 per cent.

In partnership with the Norfolk OPP, Norfolk Fire & Rescue and Norfolk EMS, the county has set up a war room in a county facility in Port Dover.

The room is lined with video screens streaming aerial and street-level images of what’s happening all over town and at the approaches.

Hundreds of OPP officers from across Ontario are 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 the police are out in force in case something goes terribly wrong.

OPP were especially concerned about the large presence of outlaw motorcycle gangs such as the Hells Angels. The Hells Angels rented half a dozen vending spaces in the Elmer Lewis Parkette and were selling T-shirts and hats expressing support for “The Big Red Machine.”

About 50 feet away, OPP tactical officers with automatic weapons and cameras monitored activity in this area.

On the traffic front, there were two crashes to report as of Friday afternoon. One involved a motorcycle in Simcoe while two motorcycles collided in Port Dover Thursday night. Police report minor injuries in both.

“We have a large police presence,” Sanchuk said, adding a helicopter and drones were part of the surveillance effort. “So far, everyone is acting in a mature, safe and responsible fashion.”

Norfolk paramedics also have a stepped-up presence. Under normal circumstances, a single ambulance is stationed in town but on Friday there were three.

Norfolk EMS knew conditions would be hot and muggy so the 40 paramedics on standby are on the lookout for heat stroke and other heat-related conditions. They are looking for signs of dehydration and have situated cooling stations at strategic locations around town.

Sarah Townsend, ambulance manager in Norfolk, said paramedics are also watching for signs of extreme intoxication. They are also on heightened alert for collisions across the county given the high volume of motorcycle traffic.

Longtime observers of the event noted several circumstances that pointed toward a record turnout.

There is the fact that the event is occurring in July when the weather tends to be good and many are on vacation.

There is also the consideration that the next party is 14 months away in September, 2019. That too promises to be huge given the lengthy interval in between.

“It’s the bike event with no bike events,” laughed Andrew (Big Mark) Mitchell of Ohsweken. “There’s no bike rodeo or swap meet. Nothing but beer and T-shirts.

“I’m here for the short shorts and the sexy women. It’s a good waste of time.”

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Monte Sonnenberg
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