Above: Ray Sasseville with the Premier of BC – Christy Clark
Imagine living in a small, sleepy town in Sturgis South Dakota, regular population 6,627, when annually, one week in August, upwards of 500,000 bikers descend on your location to stage the annual Sturgis Bike Rally.
As scary as that spectacle may be, the Sturgis town council welcome this influx of tourists with open arms and open coffers. It’s reported that this annual event adds something like $800 million dollars to the area’s economy.
Now transpose that Sturgis event to Merritt B.C, population just over 7,000, where entrepreneur Ray Sasseville is set to stage his first ever Sturgis Canada festival at the 200 acre Merritt Mountain Music grounds, August 21st to August 24th and its quite conceivable that a similar invasion of tourists could be drawn to this central B.C community.
“It may take us a few years to achieve those numbers but this year’s festival will lay down a marker,” noted Sasseville as he prepares for his big week. “This year is our `Do It Right ‘year. We want to make sure the infrastructure is in place, that all the bands are well taken care of, that security is tight, that there’s no problems on site and that everyone has a great time. Then we want the media, the bands and the spectators to go away and rave about the festival to their friends and build on a word of mouth.”
Certainly Sturgis South Dakota didn’t pull their numbers overnight. You have to go back to August 14th 1938 when a group of local bikers called the Jackpine gypsies staged a nine-bike race to establish the Black Hills Classic. Ever since then, the now annual event has grown in numbers to become THE mega bike rally in North America, with a full week of cycle stunt attractions, beauty pageants and of course music.
“Loverboy just played Sturgis and it was amazing,” noted lead vocalist Mike Reno. “It was our second time down there, first time we opened for Journey and Pat Benatar but this year we headlined. All you could see was hundreds of thousands of bikers and bikes; it was quite an awesome sight.”
“The key element to attracting people to Sturgis Canada is the music,” added Sasseville. “You can have all the right attractions during the day but you need the right bands, and this is something we will be building on.
With Burton Cummings, Jefferson Starship, Molly Hatchet, Canned Heat and a number of top Can Con acts including Coney Hatch, Nick Gilder and Sweeney Todd, the Stampeders and a reunion of Alias to name a few, Sturgis Canada is heading in the right direction and Sasseville has even more ambitious plans for 2015.
So how does the city of Merritt react to this impending invasion? “Any festival that comes into the municipality of Merritt is definitely a positive situation if it stimulates economic growth,” confirmed Jerry Sucharyna, the city’s business & economic development manager.
“Any festival held in this area has its economic spin-offs for the business core”, he noted. “So long as it’s executed in a safe way and there is proper security, we welcome any initiatives like Sturgis.”
Sasseville is committed to growing this event and says he will be in Sturgis South Dakota next year when they celebrate their 75th anniversary to promote his northern extension of the franchise.
“People in Sturgis tell me I am definitely on to something,” boasts Sasserville confidently. “They agree that it may take four or five years to maximize the event, but we have our own property, we are creating our own identity. Once we build on getting the right bands, I am sure the crowds will be attracted to our event.”
For more info on the festival you can go here: http://www.sturgiscanada.com