Last year 20,000 motorcycles roared into Digby, Nova Scotia for the 5th Annual Wharf Rat Rally. Over an extended Labour Day weekend the event attracted a huge audience from across Canada and the United States. Event Day featured Street Punishment and Trick Riding. There was Hammer Throwing and Stunt Sea-Doo Driving all thrilling a enthusiastic crowd of 80,000 on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.
If you haven?t been there, Digby is a small, fishing community on Nova Scotia?s Fundy shore with 2300 residents many of whom are retired. Several years ago three local businessmen including the Town vet and a Canadian Tire store manager thought it would be a good idea to give the sleepy local economy a boost by organizing an event for bikers. The Town fathers weren?t so sure.
Today the event has a Management Board that includes representatives from the Town Council and the surrounding rural municipality. It?s well organized and it?s huge for the area economy.
According to Tom Ossinger, Digby?s Chief Administrative Officer, ?The crowd is very respectful of Town property and our people. There is no violence or vandalism and we do not need to hire any additional staff to clean up afterwards. Town Council is very supportive and Digby is pleased to host the Wharf Rat Rally.?
The man in charge of policing the event for the past few years is Digby resident RCMP Staff Sergeant Phil Barrett.
He says ?I?m very impressed with the vibrancy of the crowd and what it brings to Digby. Last year he recalls ?For the first time a few people spent the night in the lockup for alcohol related infractions but many of these were locals.?
The members of his force are not told to turn a blind eye to obvious drunken behavior or activities that threaten public safety.
Barrett says ?We have community standards that we expect people to respect. We put our members in the crowd. We have a visible police presence and over the years we have had very few problems.?
Was it noisy? Yes! Did it fill every available hotel and motel room from Yarmouth to Windsor for several days? Yes! Does the Wharf Rat Rally inject millions of $$ into the Nova Scotia economy? You Betcha! Would a Mayor of Digby be elected if he opposed closing the Town?s streets to host it? Ossinger says ?No way!?
Asked if as CAO of Digby, Tom Ossinger had been contacted by his counterparts in other towns in Atlantic Canada to find out what?s up... he reports one call from a lady in Summerside PEI?s economic development department. That?s it ? one call. Holy Harley!
News flash! The Cat died. That?s right. The high speed ferry that put on several extra runs last year to deliver bikers to Yarmouth is no more. Which means thousands of riders will now drive through New Brunswick to attend the Wharf Rat Rally.
We think there are several places along the Saint John River Valley that should have a ?hog in the fight? to become an important venue hosting a big biker weekend either side of the Wharf Rat Rally. Over the next few months we are going to rev up that idea. Think of a future headline like ?Hampton Goes Hog Wild?. Yikes!
Over the next few weeks we want to hear from bikers. Tell us what you think of this idea, give us input. If you had your druthers where would it happen and when? What would the host community need to provide to make it work? These things would be good to know.
We will publish the collaborative overview and in keeping with our rep as pro-active journalists, we will ask towns nearby your popular venue choices to respond.