3000 men died by suicide in Canada last year.
My friend was one of them.
We met in grade nine, two fresh faced kids waiting anxiously to hit puberty, ditching the odd class and smoking the odd cigarette. We belonged to a crew of friends whose priorities consisted of sports, parties, and concerts. Suicide wasn’t high on the list.
But what we didn’t know then was that after we left high school and entered adulthood, some of us would consider suicide and a few would carry it out. My male friends would be more likely to succeed.
What wasn’t clear to us then has become all too clear to us now: men are dying from suicide at an alarming rate.
Statistically, it’s much more likely for Canadian men to kill themselves, and if we don’t talk about it, it’s unlikely to get better.
I don’t know why suicide is occurring at such a high rate, and I don’t know why men are more prone to it. I just know that I miss my friend, and I wish I had have been there for him when he was alive. The common sentiment among our friends after was that we never thought he was the type to do it. We were wrong, and the guilt for not taking the signs more seriously will never go away. It still hurts. I should have been there for him.
But I can’t go back in time. The only thing I can do now is to remember him in a way that’s positive and try to raise awareness to prevent it from happening to others. I know that money doesn’t solve all issues, but raising money for charity is a step in the right direction.
When I heard about the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride, I looked into it further and thought it might be a way of doing something positive around the anniversary of my friend’s death. It seemed the organization, under the umbrella of Movember, was doing good work to raise money for mental health, and that getting involved might bring something positive. And I’ll be honest, it looked fun.
Having recently joined a classic motorcycle group in Owen Sound, I reached out to see if anyone was interested in joining. Everyone in the group loved the idea, and almost everyone could make the date. We reached double digits, and that’s not bad for our first year. The DGR is an international ride that’s been happening for a number of years, but this is the first time Owen Sound has entered a team.
The stipulations are that you have a classic bike and that you look distinguished. And that you act like a gentlemen on the road – no asshole moves, no speeding, no hot doggin’.
The ride is for both men and women, but we didn’t have any women sign up this first year. I tried to enlist my partner, but she didn’t have her insurance ready in time. She took on the role of photographer instead, and promised to ride her Suzuki TC 125 next year.
We met up at the Owen Sound Farmers’ Market on Sunday morning of the long weekend, after raising over $5500 in donations. Sundays in OS are not ideal for visibility but we did have a few who noticed us as we lingered in admiration of each other’s bikes. I’m a new rider, so I’m the business of learning, and loved inspecting each vintage machine lined up along 1st Ave E.
I gave a short speech before we kick-started our machines into action and rode off on a 50km route through Georgian Bluffs and Leith before returning to Owen Sound.
We rolled into our lunch spot a half hour late for our reso but hungry as hell. As we sat around our table at Mudtown Station eating burgers and talking motorcycles, I couldn’t help but think of my friend and wonder if he would have liked this kind of thing. I wish it was something we could have done together.
I didn’t realize my own love for it until later in life, but it’s a great bonding experience to ride with others. Yeah, it’s dangerous and sure there are stigmas attached to bikers sometimes, but that’s what the Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride aims to change. We all dress up respectfully and obey the rules of the road. We want to be better role models and ambassadors; we also want to see fewer people suffer from poor mental health.
I can’t say that we saved anyone’s life last weekend, but hopefully we helped moved the needle in the right direction. There were certainly worse ways we could have spent our time.
And it was a day I spent remembering my friend. This ride was for you, Dougie. We miss you.
Thanks to all who sponsored me, and thanks to all who came out on the 21st. Keep an eye out for us next year. I have a feeling there will be more of us in 2024.
In memory of Marc Johnson.
Words Jesse Wilkinson
Photos Margaret Curtis