Cigarettes hang from the lips of dozens of denim- and leather-clad bikers as they roll their way up the hill from Old Town in the opening scenes of an amateur video documenting the Northern Breed Motorcycle Club’s 1983 rally. The motley parade ends at the Sandpits – the site of annual club parties that offered drag races, games and competitions, and a fair supply of booze and bare skin. (See the embedded video below for vintage scenes from the event. But be careful. It isn’t especially PG, or PC.)
It was a different era in Yellowknife in the late-‘70s/’80s, when the town was a wilder place, and the rules were less firmly set. The Northern Breed still lives on in the memories of some of its members, acquaintances, and offspring. But many are gone, and some, especially those who have become more, shall we say, established and settled as time has passed, are tight-lipped these days when it comes to stories of the club’s glory days. Still, EDGE managed to talk with a few of the group and their contemporaries, in the hopes of uncovering the flavour of those less “stringent” times…
Video of the 1983 Rally. WARNING: Some of this content is NSFW
One thing about the rally: everyone was invited, says Ted Kidston, one of the founding members of the club, which officially formed in 1979.
It was a good lot of fun. The city never bothered us. We didn’t have the stringent city that we do now – we’d never be able to do now what we did then. The RCMP were really good – we had no problems. We had a shuttle service for people that wanted it, and we’d pretty well stop people from leaving there drunk.
While they were generally left alone, Kidston, also known as Teddy Kickstand, says there were a few times when the club caught the attention of the police.
We had one of our members, one time, he didn’t have insurance plates for the bike and he drew a cardboard license plate, painted it and attached it that afternoon. As we were going down the hill, we got pulled over going back to the clubhouse. The officer asked him where his license plate was and he said the back of the bike. The paper was all crumpled, paint was all running down the back of his fender.
He said he didn’t know it was that hot – it melted.
The officer escorted us back down to the clubhouse and said if you’re not leaving again you’re all good.
The bylaw department then and now is totally different.
As well as the motorcycle enthusiasts, some members of the city’s dirt-biking club came out to take part in the rallies: Paul Jackson points himself out as the wheelie-popping dirt-biker with the moustache following the line of Harleys in the 1983 rally video.
He also lived with one Northern Breed member – a character known as Jungle George – amongst a cluster of residents at the Northern United Place.
It was cheap rent and it was basically a big room up on the fourth floor facing onto Franklin, looking out at Mildred Hall.
I remember coming in, me and my friends after a dirt bike ride, and we see this big thick rope tied to the table wedged up against the window.
All of a sudden I see Jungle George climb in the window. He just did it for something to do – decided to take a rope and climb up to the fourth floor. There was two of them doing it.
While the club ranged in size, generally having around 15 members according to former president Bob Carpenter, it first took shape when a few Yellowknife motorcycle enthusiasts decided their common passion for riding could be channeled into some sort of semi-organized group.
Though there was little in the way of paved highway for them to roam at the time, Kidston’s daughter Tanya Kidston remembers many stories of the guys riding out on then-rough gravel roads.
They would do it even if there was any rain or bad weather. They’d roll into High Level and hose each other off because they were so covered in mud and muck.
Today, we ride out to Hay River in organized events. They didn’t have those organized rides but that doesn’t meant those hardcore boys didn’t do it. I remember Dad and Fred [Squires] coming off the highway and just caked in mud.
The Northern Breed: When Bikers Roamed
The Breed’s clubhouse, which no longer exists, in Old Town sometime in the 1980s | Photo courtesy Karen-Maria Tratt
Carpenter says that part of the genesis of the Northern Breed was the realization that hosting community events could help pay the bills for their own wild ways.
An idea was formed that it would be really good if someone else paid for our parties. As quite a few of us had motorcycles and one of us was a former club member, we decided to form a club to raise money, so we would hold dances uptown at the Elks. We got into a system where we would make sure we had the most popular bands, all of the tickets were pre-sold and a liquor license was bought. We would hold one every six weeks or so and they were very popular – always sold out. No trouble was tolerated at these events. The biggest problem was gatecrashers. You stood a much better chance if you were female.
The group of young men, mostly residents of Old Town, had a shared interested in partying on their weekends – all had full-time jobs – but the local bars were closed on Sunday, and Carpenter says the bootleggers didn’t stock beer.
There was no drug dealers or anything like that running around, and we certainly didn’t partake in any of that. We would, at the worst, bootleg some booze on a Sunday or something because the liquor laws were quite strict or a lot stricter then and they weren’t open as much.
We had a certain amount of clientele that would come down and buy beer from us because we would make sure we had it. That was the closest we came to being marketers of illegal stuff. We just basically wanted to party and have a good time.
As well as supporting their own partying lifestyle, the club also donated generously to local organizations – Tanya remembers the first time she held a $1,000 cheque was when the club handed it over to the Salvation Army.
Donations aside, the club eventually raised enough money to acquire the old Double Aces Upholstery shop in Old Town as a home base.
The Northern Breed: When Bikers Roamed
Tanya Kidston hops on Jim O’Neil’s bike, all decked out for his wedding ride in 1982 | Photo courtesy Karen-Maria Tratt
Like the public parties, the clubhouse drew a crowd, but Carpenter says they tried to keep a low profile – though it wasn’t always possible.
The powers-that-be were of course aware of it and chose not to shut it down. As a matter of fact, many pillars of the community frequented the door: Mayors, aldermen, business owners, government personnel and uptown girls that wanted to party in the Old Town. We tried to keep a low profile as no one wanted to stand in front of John A. Thomson (then-Justice of the Peace and magistrate).
There were times when unwanted attention came – I recall once we provided a venue for a high-stakes card game to give players another game than the one that was at the Gold Range. We did not organize or police this game as the ones playing looked after themselves – one time some shady goings-on happened and justice was swift, resulting in unwanted attention to the club.
On another occasion a couple guys couldn’t wait for us to open and put a winch-line on the door and made off with a few cases of beer. Needless to say, this was frowned on and those involved were confronted. All was smoothed over and they were back waiting for us to open.
While there were a few trips to the hospital among members and partygoers, Carpenter says they were largely self-inflicted.
But Ted Kidston does remember one trip to the ER that can definitely be attributed to others.
One guy that passed out, we crazy-glued a beaver hide to his head and he had to go up to the hospital to get it removed.
That’s something you didn’t do too often, was pass out.
He was a bald fellow and we had a whole kit for him after that: a moustache, beard, but he never did pass out again.
The Breed catch pedestrians’ attention on Franklin Ave. | Photo courtesy Karen-Maria Tratt
Everyone has different memories of Yellowknife, says Karen-Maria Tratt, but for her it was that Old Town crowd in the ‘80s, with the first barge on Yellowknife Bay and the legendary motorcycle club parties.
The clubhouse was fun. That was where we hung out, but it was the sandpit parties that were epic: very, very epic – and being thirsty the next day. You wake up the next day in the back of a Volkswagen – I had a Volkswagen – and there was a keg buried in the sand, tons of games and plonk. Plonk is an Old Town mixture, it’s hard to describe: it’s basically a bunch of fruit that’s going bad. You put it all together and as it’s going bad, you put the fruit into a thing and let it ferment and everybody would come over and they’d party.
Raucous parties aside, the clubhouse and its members cleaned up quite well. Tratt recalls being pulled over during a wedding procession from the clubhouse after the wedding of another founding member, Jim O’Neil.
The club also played host to Carpenter’s wedding in 1982.
The club members got together and decked the place out; went to the dump and got carpet, that kind of stuff, decorated it all up, you know. So it made, of course, the venue very cheap, and then we would always have a parade through town on our bikes in our finery.
The club combined a bar area and shop for members to work on their bikes, as well as a three-bedroom apartment above that served as a rental space, and, for a while, a home to Kidston’s family.
Tanya remembers waking up in the mornings to find a variety of overnight guests that hadn’t quite made it home. She laughs that it was actually a really safe environment for her and her sister, and the girls saw the group’s fondness for them as an honour.
I remember us, my sister and I, were kind of the novelty kids. Because no one at that time had children, we were kind of totally spoiled. I think from the outside world everyone saw these big bad bikers, and we saw these teddy bears that literally bought us teddy bears and ice cream and took us on rides everywhere, all the time. It was our family.
My coolest memory is just being a total part of that family. I remember being in kindergarten and Grade 1 and my dad and his best buddy at the time, Fred Squires, they’d surprise my sister and I every so often and pick us up at school.
I’d take my time walking up to the bike so everyone could see me and I just felt like the coolest kid ever.
Eventually, Tratt jokes, the Northern Breed all started breeding and having families of their own.
When members slowly started moving away, Carpenter says they decided to sell the clubhouse, which has since been torn down.
We got older, moved on, time was changing and our setup was growing out of favour, so we sold out and went our own way. Many of us are still friends and I know that many [reading this] will be smiling right from their toes ‘cause they know who they are and it was all in good fun.