Here’s a strange one from the very early 1970s when my twin brother Tim and I were about 10 or 11. As you might imagine, Leaside is not exactly the kind of neighbourhood where you’d expect a motorcycle gang to set up shop. A gardening society? Sure. A community choral group? Why not? Perhaps a communal walking club. Makes sense. But a motorcycle gang in Leaside? Not so much.
Leasiders with a penchant for shopping on Bayview will likely know that an alley runs north from Millwood almost up to Parkhurst, just behind the stores on the east side of Bayview. It was a great place to hang out as kids. We spent hours riding our bikes up and down the alley with a gang of friends. Sometimes we’d set up our makeshift ramps and jump our bikes. We often played hide & seek in that alley, too (oh the innocence of youth).
In those days, at the north end of the alley, there was a big garage. We assumed it was used by one of the store owners. But one summer’s day when Tim and I were heading for the alley, we heard the loud percussive popping of a motorcycle engine, perhaps more than one. As we rounded the corner into the alley, we stopped in our tracks. The big garage door was open, revealing about a dozen leather-clad bikers lounging on lawn furniture, their motorcycles parked haphazardly in the lane. Fancy choppers with long forks and psychedelic paint jobs.
These guys looked rough. Jeans, leather chaps, leather vests, big tattoos, long hair and scraggly beards. There was heavy rock music playing in the background. It’s possible that beer was being consumed but I couldn’t swear to that. Needless to say, Tim and I were a little nervous as we stood there taking in this most unexpected sight. Finally, one of them said something like, “you can walk by, you know, we don’t bite.” So, we did. But we took the long way home along Bayview.
I don’t think the motorcycle gang’s new clubhouse lasted very long and we never heard why they just disappeared one day probably only a few months after they moved in. But I will never forget that scene in the alley that hot day when the motorcycle gang moved in to Leaside.
It prompts another memory of walking with Tim and my mother along Bayview, heading to buy milk. I know that because our mother was carrying the two empty plastic jugs we were returning. I had just been telling Tim about a 1200 cc Harley Davidson motorcycle that I’d seen earlier that morning parked on the street. And then there it was, tooling along Bayview carrying a burly, bearded biker who wore what I can only describe as a leather skirt over top of his jeans. I suspect the biker didn’t refer to it as a leather skirt. I was so excited I shouted when I saw the bike. We’d never seen such a big motorcycle. As luck would have it, the biker, whose nickname could appropriately have been Sasquatch, actually heard my shout and looked right at me. I waved weakly and we continued our stroll up Bayview. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. A few minutes later, I looked behind us and here was this big guy, still in his helmet walking our way.
He accosted us and demanded to know why I was yelling at him. There may have been a profanity involved, too. I politely explained that I’d just been so excited to see my first 1200 cc Harley that I’d shouted and pointed to show my brother. This seemed to placate him, even please him. I had the situation under control until my mother expressed some reservations about his aggressive attitude. He just patted the empty plastic jugs she was still carrying and said, “Drink your milk, lady.” That’s when Tim, in a spasm of either bravery or stupidity — and I’m certainly clear on which — stepped forward to defend our mother’s honour. The guy just laughed, turned on his heel and headed up the block. Yes, in Leaside.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis grew up in Leaside and is the award-winning writer of seven national bestsellers, including his most recent, Albatross, all published by McClelland & Stewart. His eighth novel, Operation Angus, hits bookstores August 31.