DIGBY, N.S. – An economic impact study prepared by the province shows in 2017 the Digby Wharf Rat Rally provided a boost to the provincial economy to the tune of $4.9 million.
While the bulk of that benefitted Digby and southwestern Nova Scotia, the event is important to the province as a whole, say its organizers.
“That’s $4.9 million that would not have been spent in Nova Scotia if the Wharf Rat Rally did not exist,” says Wayne MacDonald, vice-chairman of the Wharf Rat Rally Motorcycle Association. “We have to remember that if riders didn’t have Digby as a destination during that weekend, they could well have travelled to events in other provinces, the New England states or even Milwaukee, which hosts a huge event every Labour Day weekend.”
MacDonald says they are pleased with the economic impact study provided by the province.
“The numbers were what we’d hope for, and almost exactly what we expected,” he says.
According to a media release issued by the Wharf Rat Rally Motorcycle Association, the study consisted of three parts. Staff from the province and the rally co-ordinated survey questions that the province transferred to tablets. During the rally a team of volunteers asked attendees to complete the survey while other volunteers with clickers counted people as they entered specific areas of town. After the rally the information was compiled by the Paradigm Consulting Group and a report was returned to the province and to the Wharf Rat Rally Motorcycle Association.
The numbers also show that the rally continues to see growth as it enters its 14th year. This year’s rally will run from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2. Details about the rally can be found online at wharfratrally.com.
“Events Nova Scotia did a study for us in 2011 which showed the number of unique motorcycles in Digby was 7,227. That was up from 1,331 motorcycles estimated in an economic impact study done in 2006. This past year, the results of the study indicated 8,020 unique motorcycles were at the rally,” says MacDonald. “Of course, since it is a multiple-day event, many of those bikes came into town numerous times – 3.1 times each, according to the study.”
The study showed that the percentage of out-of-province visitors was up slightly from 24 per cent to 26 per cent, and that the total boost to Nova Scotia’s economy had risen from $4.2 million in 2011 to $4.9 million in 2017.
The rally organizers say the event draws motorcycle enthusiasts, but it also attracts families and visitors not on motorcycles. Part of the study tracked the total unique visitor attendance last year and determined it to be 21,870 of which almost 18,000 visited on the Saturday of the event.
“This was wonderful news to us because the weather was so cold,” says MacDonald. “People were telling us they turned around after half an hour and headed home, but obviously a great number continued into Digby.”
The rally itself also collects information during the event through registration ballots.
“We transcribe the information from those thousands of handwritten ballots every year and put origins and motorcycle makes into a spreadsheet and it’s remarkable how close our numbers were last year with the results of the consultant’s study,” says executive director Laura Simmons in a media release. “It’s good to know that our grassroots information in relation to the riders is so accurate. The province’s survey was able to include spectators and it’s obvious we need to do more to encourage spectators to register as the registration fee supports the bands, contests and shows, which everyone who attends is able to enjoy.”
In an interview, Digby Mayor Ben Cleveland recalls the days before the Wharf Rat Rally came to town.
“I go back to Labour Day Weekend 14 years ago and in Digby it was a weekend when everything seemed to quiet down. Digby started shutting down for the weekend,” he says. There was a Digby Fire Department Labour Day Fair, but other than that it was pretty quiet.
That’s not the case now and Mayor Cleveland says beyond the economic impact another key impact of the event for him is the exposure it brings to Digby and southwestern Nova Scotia.
“My daughter was in Mexico a year ago and was sitting on the bench and this gentleman walked by and he had a Wharf Rat Rally T-shirt on,” he says, showing that word gets around.
The rally is important to businesses in town, Cleveland says. For many it helps to get them through the winter months when business is slower.
Cleveland acknowledges not everyone likes the noise and street closures that come with the rally but looking at the bigger picture, he says, the event has been great for the area.
“It’s not just a bike show anymore, there are so many other things that go on that bring people in,” he says. “It’s a spectator sport.”
The rally has ventured into other parts of southwestern Nova Scotia, with events and rides held outside Digby. Accommodations and visitation also spill into other parts of the region.
MacDonald says preparing for the rally is a year-long process that begins with an annual review of the rallies once they’ve ended.
“We review the rally. Review what was good, what was bad. We review our strategic plan and see what changes we need to make for the next year and hope for better weather from the year before, always,” he says.
The weather is a crucial factor to the rally’s success, and yet it’s the one thing that is completely beyond the control of the organizers. Still, MacDonald says, Mother Nature has been kind over the years.
“Very kind, even during Hurricane Earl,” he says with a laugh. “Hurricane Earl took a turn to the right and didn’t come up the bay.”
REVISIT STORIES FROM THE 2017 WHARF RAT RALLY:
And then there's this story from 2015: