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Atlanticade on hiatus in Summerside

Lack of financial and community support scuttles Summerside biker festival, for now

COLIN MACLEAN colin.maclean @JournalPEI

SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – Summerside's Atlanticade Motorcycle Festival is officially on hiatus.

The City of Summerside owns and produces the event, which typically runs the last weekend in July.

The festival announced through its social media accounts on March 6 that the 2023 edition had been cancelled, with no indication as to when or if it might return.

The decision not to bring the festival back this year comes down to the financial realities it faces, said JP Desrosiers, Summerside's director of community services.

There are a few relevant factors, he added.

The most significant is that it has taken longer than expected to get a commitment from Ribfest as to whether it planned to attend again this summer.

Ribfest is a travelling amalgamation of mobile barbeque food trailers that has been coming to P.E.I. annually in one capacity or another for close to a decade.

For the last two years, it has joined forces with Atlanticade; the two events ran concurrently and shared the Green's Shore event grounds.

Ribfest's support brought a lot of money and people to the table. Without a solid commitment for it to return, the case was not there for Atlanticade to move ahead this year without it, said Desrosiers.

“It made sense financially to host Atlanticade in partnership with Ribfest. It really made no sense financially to host it without Ribfest.”

Another factor in the decision was that the province of P.E.I. reduced its funding contribution to the event.

“What we're ... hearing from our provincial partners at Tourism P.E.I. is that, from a funding standpoint, they really want us to steer away from large events in the summer months,” said Desrosiers.

The tourism industry is facing a lot of pressure during the peak season because of staffing shortages, inflation and increasing demand, so Desrosiers said there is a general desire to move away from adding another big event to the Island's summer line-up. Instead, the industry is emphasizing building the shoulder seasons in May, June, September and October.

That is what the city is doing now, he added, considering the possibility of moving Atlanticade to one of those shoulder seasons.

“Trying to pull that off now, this late in the game, just wasn't in the cards for this summer. So rather than trying to pull something off last minute, without the funding we need, we said we'd put it on hold and kind of revisit it down the road,” Desrosiers said.

Gary Myers, a lifelong biker, said he is disappointed to see the event put on hold, but added he wasn't surprised to hear that it was.

Myers is the president of the local Red Knights Motorcycle club, whose membership consists primarily of firefighters.

The club and its members volunteered their time over the last few editions of Atlanticade, leading guided tours among other duties.

Biker events can be a lot of fun as well as big business, said Myers, so it was special to have a local festival.

“It was awesome. Great,” said Myers.

“Because of the comradery. Bikers like to gather in groups, go for rides, then you have people from off Island as well and they want to see the countryside.”

But Myers also said there had been criticism among the local biking community on a few aspects of Atlanticade's organization. Its location, on the oftenswampy Green's Shore event grounds, for one, and the tour routes being designed by non-bikers, for another.

“A lot of my members in my chapter are not very happy, they may not even go back,” he said.

If the event does come back eventually, Myers said it would be ideal for more local bikers to take responsibility for its organization.

Desrosiers acknowledged that getting buy-in from the local biking community, other than the significant contributions by a few groups like The Red Knights, was another challenge the city had.

“The buy-in from the local biking community, we just didn't see it,” he said.

But regardless of that issue, this year's event still would have faced significant financial challenges.

All that being said, Desrosiers said the city still owns the rights to Atlanticade and is open to bringing the event back sometime in the future.

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