The Wharf Rat Rally Motorcycle Association is a not-for-profit society that relies on sponsorships and the help of hundreds of volunteers to maintain its sustainability. It is comprised of a volunteer board of directors with 12 members who are business leaders in Southwest Nova Scotia. Before 2012, the Rally had been organized and run by a totally volunteer board.
The Wharf Rat Rally was originally conceived as a free event bringing together riders of all types in a family-friendly environment. It begins the Wednesday prior to Labour Day Weekend and continues for five action-packed days. The event was co-founded by Peter Robertson and Alex Joannide in 2005 and saw just a small gathering of motorcycles meet in Digby. From there, the Wharf Rat Rally has continued to grow, attracting bigger names and more bikes and people. It is now comprised of over 80 smaller events with entertainers and builders brought in from near and far. As they enjoy music and races, dancers and stunters, participants are encouraged to register or make a donation to help guarantee future rallies.
The heart of the rally is the central core of the Town of Digby which offers both a central meeting place and access to the Bay of Fundy on the Digby Wharf. Events take advantage of both the streetscape and the water and include music, vendors, raffles, watersport demonstrations, and guided tours.
In 2011, based on an economic impact study done by Events Nova Scotia (a division of the provincial government), the town of 2,092 had an influx of over 30,000 visitors and 22,500 motorcycle visits from 7.227 unique motorcycles over the course of five days.
- the Wharf Rat Rally generated $8.9 million in economic activity for Nova Scotia
- the spending associated with the event supported $3.0 million in wages and salaries in the province through the support of 138 jobs
- tax revenues produced by the event totaled $1.9 million
- average spending per person on accommodations was $124.36
- average spending per person on food was $173.60
The 2011 study used a combination of DOT road counters and people standing beside them, checking off how many vehicles were motorcycles, personal interviews, etc. Since then, the DOT road counters have been placed in the same spot so the numbers of vehicles crossing them can be compared year to year. In 2012, there was an increase of 7%, in 2013 an increase (over the 2012 numbers) of 16%, and in 2015 an increase of 3% so overall the growth has been 27.8%. In 2015, that put us at 9,240 unique motorcyles in Digby over the weekend, making almost 30,000 visits. These numbers don't include people in cars and trucks or locals who come early and stay for the closing fireworks. The resulting economic impact for this growth projects to $11.4 million within the province in 2015. Not bad for a couple guys having coffee and talking about hosting a rally over a decade ago!
In 2016, we didn't have road counters at all, so our numbers would be totally subjective. It seemed to some people that Wednesday and Thursday were more quiet than 2015, but maybe all the people who had tickets to ACDC in Moncton in 2015 came to the Rally early, because we had an explosion of people according to our Thursday night road counters in 2015. Our traffic guys (who have been helping us since 2012) said that Saturday was the busiest they had seen it with bikes parked all along Maiden Lane and along quite a bit of First Avenue. The traffic light that is usually turned off on Saturday from 10am to 2pm stayed off until 3pm because the number of in-coming motorcycles warranted the longer closure. Bay Ferries had the most motorcycles ever crossing from Digby back to Saint John during Wharf Rat Rally with 402. So, we don't think we had fewer motorcycles in 2016 than in 2015, but we can't tell what type of increase we might have seen.
Recognizing the value of the economic impact to the area of the event, support has been given to the Wharf Rat Rally by the Province of Nova Scotia, the Town of Digby, and the Municipality of Digby. Although our visitors generate revenue for local businesses, the association is very dependent on registrations, donations and sponsorships to pay for bringing contests, builders and general entertainment to the Rally.