The 27th annual Port Alberni Toy Run is days away and Alberni Valley resident Tom Wall can already feel the butterflies.
Wall is one of 1,000 motorcycle enthusiasts—80 who are local—are expected to take part in the venerable run, which takes place on Sept. 17–18.
The ride starts at 12 noon at Little Qualicum Falls.
Riders will make their way along Highway 4, past Cameron Lake, through Cathedral Grove and into Port Alberni.
Once in the Valley, they’ll come down Johnston Road, turn onto Gertrude Street, travel to Harbour Quay where they’ll reverse direction, head to 10th Avenue and head to Glenwood Centre, where they hope to arrive at 1 p.m.
The lanky 63-year-old former truck driver has lived in Alberni for 25 years. He got involved with the Toy Run 20 years ago at the behest of a friend and has been involved as rider and director ever since.
There were 200 motorcyclists who participated in Wall’s first run. “I thought that was a pretty good size run back then but we didn’t even fill one side of the parking lot at Cathedral Grove,” Wall said.
The run moved its start point to Little Qualicum Falls, and is now starting to outgrow that site as well, he said.
The run is a family affair for Wall. His wife Susan is a Toy Run member and his daughter Emma, 11, has ridden with Wall on the back of his bike for the last two years.
“She saw other kids riding with their dads and wanted to herself but couldn’t until a couple of years ago because she was too small,” Wall said.
Wall rides a Yamaha V Star Classic in the run but he owned several Harley Davidson bikes back in the day. “They all left me sitting on the side of the road,” he said.
If he could ride his dream bike in the run it would be a BMW, but the dream is a distant one. “If it could do 280 km/h then I would do it,” Wall said. “With my age and reflexes today I’d probably end up a hood ornament though.”
Wall has donated every year he’s ridden in the Toy Run; he always donates cash instead of toys. “Money helps get things for older children and I like that because they’re the ones who often get left out,” he said.
Enjoying a smooth ride during a nice time of year brings the riders out, but doing something nice for kids and taking in the much talked about Port Alberni hospitality are big draws as well, event chairman Lloyd Herzog said.
The pres has been involved in the Toy Run for since 1993, first as a bartender then in other capacities. He doesn’t own a bike though, and has never ridden in the run.
“Helping out with the Toy Run keeps me out of mischief and out of the bars,” he said.
Weather will be a determining factor in how many riders participate. Rain geared down the number of riders last year to 700, which was down from the previous year, Herzog said.
Kids are the driving force behind why riders come out for the two-day event. “A lot of us are at an age where we want to help kids,” Herzog said.
The ride is also a social occasion. “We visit one another for a day, go to the dance, visit some more, visit one last time at breakfast on Sunday before heading home,” he said.
The two-day event includes the ride, pig roast, dance and Sunday breakfast. It also includes a beer garden, bike games and kids games as well.
“Other toy runs you go from A to B, have a coffee and a doughnut after and that’s it,” Herzog said. “We’re the best little toy run in B.C.”
The Toy Run raised $30,000 in toys last year, but it also quietly made significant contributions as well.
It helped stock four different kids’ playgrounds; helped the elderly by donating wheelchairs and blankets; and it helped 4-H and Girl Guides as well.
One change this year is that the Arlington Hotel, which for 26 years was a contributor and defacto stopover for riders, closed earlier this year.
Instead, riders can pull up a stump at the Kingsway Hotel, which won the bid to host the riders.
“We’ll see how it works out,” Herzog said.