Bikers should skip Port Dover rally on Friday the 13th, says Norfolk County

Norfolk County is urging motorcyclists to stay away from Port Dover for the traditional Friday the 13th rally. The mayor worries sunny weather will attract big crowds.

OPP could put up barricades if there's a safety hazard

When the calendar flips to Friday the 13th, tens of thousands of motorcyclists visit Port Dover. Norfolk County is asking people to stay away in light of the pandemic. (Geoff Robins/Canadian Press)

As Friday, Nov. 13th approaches, Norfolk County is asking the tens of thousands of bikers who usually descend on Port Dover to stay away. 

The mayor of Norfolk County, Kristal Chopp, is worried that big crowds will show up, meaning a risk to people's health and the possibility that more restrictions will be placed on the region. 

"Of course we were all hoping for a snowy, cold day for the first time in history on a Friday the 13th," she said. "But it looks like the weather is going to be gorgeous this weekend, so unfortunately I think we could see some large crowds arrive."

Since 1981, motorcyclists have been gathering in Port Dover whenever the calendar flips to Friday the 13th. 

This is the first Friday the 13th to fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the last rally occurring just before the province declared a state of emergency back in March. An estimated 200,000 people visited Port Dover for a rally in July 2018. 

The county's medical officer of health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, called the potential of large crowds "extremely worrisome" in a media release. Chopp said there was already an influx of bikers last weekend because of the nice weather. 

The community is usually widely supportive of the event, Chopp said, and businesses count on these rallies. People may not have heard of Norfolk County, she said, but somehow they've heard of the motorcyclists riding out to Port Dover. 

But the repercussions of a big gathering would have lasting effects on businesses that are already struggling, she said, which is why they're asking people to skip it. 

Due to the increasing numbers of positive COVID-19 cases, Haldimand-Norfolk has been categorized as "Yellow-Protect" in the provincial government's new COVID-19 system. Certain restrictions are already in effect, like a limit of six people seated at one table at a time. 

Chopp's biggest concern is if the region reaches a rate of 40 cases per 100,000 people, it will move to "Orange-Restrict" and face tougher restrictions.

"If we hit that threshold, we don't get a say in the matter. The province imposes those new rules upon our businesses and that's where they're going to sit for the next period of time and that worries me," she said. 

There are three ongoing outbreaks in the county right now — including at a farm, hospital and in a long-term care facility— and 29 active cases in Haldimand-Norfolk. 

Council has already taken steps to discourage visitors, like denying permits for vendors on county and private property, and Chopp said local service clubs backed the decision. 

Mayor of Norfolk County Kristal Chopp says that the community is always supportive of the Friday the 13th events. But she worries this year could result in more restrictions placed on the region's businesses. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Council will discuss other moves it might consider, such as temporarily reducing parking in the town, at a meeting on Tuesday night. 

It also isn't possible to officially cancel the gathering, says Norfolk County, because "Friday the 13th is not a formal event." 

A website for the annual rally is also calling for people to stay away, saying that "informal gatherings like Friday the 13th can develop into super-spreader events."

"The COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled events world-wide and Friday the 13th in Port Dover is no exception," says the site. 

Chopp said while there are some people who are forcibly against public health restrictions, the majority of people are supportive of dissuading people from going to the rally this year. 

The OPP and bylaw officers will be on patrol on Friday. Chopp said the OPP will provide barricades if they deem it a safety hazard. 

She said community members have wondered why barricades aren't being set up in the first place, but neither the mayor, council or the city's police services board have the authority to direct OPP to shut down roads into town. 

Chopp said she has alerted Premier Doug Ford about the upcoming Friday and was told her concerns would be sent to the attorney general. She did not receive a reply. 

"The province is aware. They've got the ability to direct OPP, and basically we're left at their mercy at this point," she said. "It's just hoping that the crowds stay small." 

"Fingers crossed that everyone will be back for the event next year."