The Atlantic Canada Great Ideas Exchange
Submitted by: Great idea created by others and submitted by Beth Earle, Digby, NS
The Wharf Rat Rally brings tens of thousands of motorcycles and upwards of 50,000 individuals to Digby each Labour Day Weekend, spending what’s been estimated to be ten million dollars in Atlantic Canada. The Rally continues to grow and in 2013 was one of a few sites in North America where Harley Davidson rolled out their new models for 2014. http://www.wharfratrally.com/
Each year vendors roll into town to sell their goods along the boardwalk. The hotels and B&Bs fill up in communities an hour or more from Digby and residents rent out rooms in their homes and set up rough camping in their fields. Local restaurants and bars bring in entertainment and everyone who wants a job can get one for a few days. This year Saint John held events for bikers driving through the city enroute to the ferry to Digby and the Wharf Rat Rally.
Adding to the economic benefit is the increase in motorcycle traffic in the Digby area from spring into the fall, with those who can’t make it to the Rally wanting to at least see the site.
Started in 2005, the Rally was the brainchild of two Digby businessmen with a passion for motorcycles and a willingness to try something outside of the box.
What continues to make this successful? I think it was a combination of the following:
- It was a great idea! Motorcycles, long the purview of gangs and tough guys have become mainstream, allowing for a market containing a large cross-section of the population.
- It’s forward looking in that it is something of interest now rather than an attempt to recreate something from the past.
- It’s known as a family event. The sidewalks and streets are filled with families and seniors. The entertainment is family oriented so the visitors are not just bikers but those who come to see the bikes. The bikers go to the local seniors’ home and drive around for everyone to see. Local not for profits hold suppers and there’s a blessing of the bikes at a local church.
- The rural setting is relaxing and the venue is the waterfront with a beautiful view and the opportunity to add a few water attractions.
- The organizers have engaged additional policing and traffic control and the community trusts that this is a safe event. There are some very strange sights during the Rally but it has all become just part of the fun.
- Community members have been engaged in volunteering and there are 80 year olds who volunteer each year.
- It’s well organized. Shuttle buses cut down on traffic issues and the town cooperates by closing the streets that need closing. Simple things like requiring vendors to set up by end of day Wednesday help to ensure that those who come early have something to see.
- Magic? When everything is working well and everyone is working together the whole is in some inexplicable way greater than the sum of the parts. http://www.digbycourier.ca/Living/2013-04-25/article-3227140/Henrys-Ontario-boys-are-back/1 . Read the article with a tissue at hand!
There seem to be additional benefits to having created what in 2013 was named the largest multi-day motorcycle rally in Canada. In 2012 the Digby Fire Department held its first annual Fire Truck Rally, and this year the first annual Lobster Fest was held. Adjacent to the traditional Scallop Day Festival the Digby and Area Board of Trade held Port Days and invited business people from Saint John to our town for topics of discussion interesting to the business community. There seems to have developed a can do attitude and a willingness to work together and try something new. Is this all the result of the Wharf Rat Rally? Maybe not but it has functioned as a catalyst that helps people see the value in embracing something that is non-traditional.
What is transferable to other communities?
- Perhaps engaging a wide cross section of the community in non-traditional ways in an event or a new idea. When seniors and churches are involved in a Motorcycle Rally it helps to foster acceptance within the community. For other types of ideas this may include forums for discussion with different age groups and sectors of the population so that the community comes to own the idea.
- Looking forward rather than backward and searching out ideas that are pertinent today rather than attempting to recreate the past.
- Utilizing the natural gifts of the community whether it’s the waterfront or other assets that can be incorporated into the event or may support a new idea.
- Having adequate organization to ensure that an event or idea gets off to a strong start.
The Wharf Rat Rally has had an incredible impact on Digby and the surrounding area that far exceeds the tangible economic benefits.