Will the Wharf Rat Rally take place in Digby in some form this year? That’s the $7.2-million-dollar question.
Based on an economic impact study by Paradigm Consulting Group, that sum is the 2017 total for combined spending of out-of-town attendees, in combination with expenditures made by organizers of the event.
The 2017 Wharf Rat Rally had an overall attendance of more than 8,000 motorbikes and nearly 22,000 individual participants, including almost 17,000 out-of-town visitors. While those numbers are great by any standards in normal times, during a COVID pandemic it's unknown what the situation will be later in the year or what restrictions there would be on gatherings and events.
Even so, for 2021 a Facebook posting on Feb. 8 by an administrator of the Wharf Rat Rally Facebook group encouraged bikers to tune up their bikes in their garage as the committee "was working hard" to bring the Wharf Rat Rally back to the Digby waterfront over the Labour Day weekend, Sept. 2-5. “Details will be coming soon” the posting said.
On social media many people expressed hope that by then conditions will allow for some sort of event, while others expressed doubt that a rally could go ahead.
Given its economic impact, it’s no wonder that Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland remains hopeful the event could take place in some form in 2021, if it can be done safely.
“With any event this size a certain amount of planning needs to take place well in advance and you need to have a certain level of optimism that you can hold the event,” he says. “The rally has stated, as they did last year, they will follow the recommendations of the Department of Health.”
The 2020 rally event was radically revised to comply with COVID social distancing. The rally itself – in its normal form – did not occur. Organizers announced in June 2020 they were putting the brakes on the event because of the COVID pandemic since crowds the size that the rally attracts were not permitted, coupled with the requirement for social distancing.
And so gone were the vast crowds and motorcycles lining the streets, and rally events like in-person concerts, a vendors market, food events, demonstrations, etc. This was all cancelled.
Share the Wind volunteers, however, were able to do scheduled drive-bys at various seniors long-term care locations in Church Point, Meteghan, Bridgetown and Digby. Other activities also went virtual. Concerts were streamed on YouTube nightly and a photo contest with prizes was held.
There are still gathering restrictions in place currently because of the COVID pandemic and it's not known what the situation will be in the fall. Immunizations are happening in the province but that is predicted to be a slow process.
At present there are requirements in place for people coming into Nova Scotia from nearly everywhere else to self-isolate for 14 days. The province added that requirement for people coming in from Newfoundland last week as a result of a spike in COVID cases happening there. And the situation in New Brunswick over the past month or longer has also forced the isolation requirement. It hasn’t been needed for people coming in from P.E.I. because of that province’s low COVID cases.
The province has also already cancelled the 2021 Cat ferry service that sails between Yarmouth and Bar Harbor because of the pandemic.
Eventually it's hoped things can get back to normal, but things are nowhere near that point yet.
But part of returning to normal includes, it is hoped, being able to once again hold events in communities. It is part of the economic recovery that will be needed.
“We need to get the community ready for the post-COVID period and attract people back to Digby,” says Mayor Cleveland.
Event manager Kim Hendrickson, with Premiere Entertainment Group, can’t supply much at present about the Wharf Rat Rally or what could or could not happen.
“We’ll have more information in the coming months,” she says.