It was 1969. I was sixteen and growing up in a freak world of hippies, drugs and Jimi Hendrix. I lived in steel town, Hamilton Ontario. Rochdale and Yorkville in Toronto basically turned on a switch in my brain.
Hamilton was a tough place back then. Lot’s of clique groups of wiseguys who had nothing better to do than roam around and cause trouble. It was no secret that with Johnny “Pops” Papalia residing in the North End, we were a mafia town. The only biker club I ever saw in Hamiltion back then were the Red Devils. To this day, they survive as the oldest original MC Club in Ontario.
But the bikers on the scene back then seemed scary. I had heard some nasty stories about the violence that surrounded them. Even though they had an intimidating presence, I saw past all that and only dreamt of the day I would own a bike like that.
Images used on this page are only intended for graphic representation to the story. These photos were "borrowed" from our friends at Google, who rip everything off. So we figured we'd do it too. Most Vagabond members were absorbed in the early 90's by the Hells Angles and no photos of then during the early 70's era were available.
The world seem to come to a stand still, until the first faint rumble emerged in the distance. It was a hilly area so sound bounced around. The rumble would fade in and out getting closer and closer. The first of the gang popped up over the hill and it seemed like seconds before the road filled up with a line of bikers that seemed to go on forever. I could feel the road vibrate right through the fence I was perched on, my heart started to beat a bit faster and I’m pretty sure my mouth gapped open. This was awesome. I watched them roar by in formation, long hair, short hair, dirty hair, really dirty greasy hair, blue jean vests frayed around cut off sleeves that seemed to have said goodbye to the colour blue many miles ago. Every once and a while there would be a woman on the back. The biker “chick” I guessed. Shorts, not much of a top and almost everyone of them straddled a case of beer on her lap. We did "two fours" in Ontario.
I looked around at some of the other shocked spectators that were witnessing this sight for the first time, most with a disgusting judgmental look on their face. After all, this was the late 60’s. For every bad looking dude riding by, there was the odd one with a big smile on his face. Looking out at this little crowd of civilians who had come out to see the show. Some waved and pointed at me as if to say hi. They weren't scary, not at all. They were just having fun and for all I could tell riding the motorcycle was what this was about. Bikes with raked out front ends, huge ape hangers, exhaust pipes bent up high behind a chopped fender, huge sissy bars and tufted seats. No two bikes looked the same. The only thing this “gang” had in common was the patch on their vest. They were the Vagabond Motorcycle Club from Toronto.
I’m not sure how many bikes passed through town that day, maybe 100 or more, vanishing down the curved hill and around the lake rumbling off in the distance. We sat on the fence listening to the rumble fade away while the police packed their shotguns back in the trunks and took off in the same direction the bikers went. I wondered what must it be like to live a lifestyle like that and thought to myself that I wasn’t really cut out to be a Red Devil or a Vagabond or any other 1% club, but that day I promised myself that one day I would at least ride around and loud enough to piss off the neighbours.
That night I drank beer until I threw up.
Just a friendly pig roast.
It was a Saturday evening during the summer of 69 when I got my first real glimpse of, what was then called, a motorcycle gang. My buddy had just got his drivers license and we borrowed the family stationwagon to ventured off to Cedar Beach Trailer Park, north of Markham Ontario. It was just after dinner time in the park, BBQ’s smoking everywhere, kid’s running around when the world stopped. The park was at capacity and it seemed everyone’s Dad was fiddling with their newest portable Sony TV to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon the next day. The channel was about to change.
We had managed to score some beer and not being a drinker, I knew one was enough to get the giggles started. Hiding in the trailer, we had a few, I was getting looped and decided to go for a stagger when the first police cruiser rolled into the park. Damn, how did they know I was drinking? This is it! My dad would surely kill me and no doubt put me on the moon next. We were stunned to see four OPP officers pile out of the car and fan out talking to parents trying to act sober. I moved closer to eavesdrop.
Apparently a “motorcycle gang” was heading our way. Something to do with a summer pig roast they planned at a nearby quarry. The police were certainly anticipating trouble as they advised everyone to stay away from the roads and “don’t be afraid… we’re here to handle it’. My buddy and I stumbeled up the road amongst the confusion.
Like a scene from Dragnet, there were cops everywhere. Piling out of their cars, pulling out shotguns from the trunk, they began taking position, lining shoulder to shoulder along the side of the road. There seemed to be hundreds of them. We managed to get a spot on the wooden fence behind the police line and learned they just wanted to make a presence so these hoodlums wouldn’t stop to rape and pillage the poor trailer park folks or the neighbouring convenience store. “Arrest those dirty hippies” I heard one lady yell out. This was exciting to me. Such drama. I had never seen so many police armed with guns let alone any dirty hippy biker gang before, surely there would be some kind of shoot out.
I wished I had another beer.
Then, just as the sun was making it’s way over the hill, a cool breeze began to blow the silence down the Ninth Line Road toward us. The police shut up. The parents shut up and some even grabbed their kids and scurried back into the trailer park.