In 1917, Deeley became a distributor for a little-known motorcycle company from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, founded in 1903 by William S. Harley and brothers William, Arthur and Walter Davidson. Deeley became Canada’s first Harley-Davidson dealer.
Over the next century, the small Vancouver shop grew into an iconic business, establishing a legacy of motorizing a nation as the Canadian distributor for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The dealership also oversaw the sale of 40,000 Austin vehicles across Canada from the 1930s through to the 1960s, along with numerous other brands of imported cars and motorcycles.
With his growing success, the astute businessman expanded the motorcycle business into a separate venture in 1925 with his son, Fred Deeley Jr., taking over motorcycle operations. By 1929, the bicycle and motorcycle shops were located along West Broadway and business was booming.
In 1935, Trev Deeley joined his father’s motorcycle business as an apprentice mechanic, setting the stage for an unparalleled career as flat track racer and Harley-Davidson-sponsored competitor, racing on the international circuit. (Among his awards and recognition are special constable status awarded to him as the only civilian member of the Vancouver Police Department motorcycle drill team.)
The businesses would weather difficult times during the Depression and throughout the war years. Returning war veterans brought with them the love of Harley-Davidson motorcycles and, in many cases, brought home the motorcycles themselves. They began to customize their machines into “choppers,” and Deeley’s parts and service business took off.
Trev Deeley argued so strongly that the sale and service of motorcycles should be run as a separate business, he threatened to quit. His father eventually acquiesced, and Trev Deeley Motorcycles opened its iconic location at 606 East Broadway in 1950.
Being close with a dollar, Fred Deeley figured out how to change the massive red-lettered “Fred Deeley” neon sign at the business by only replacing the “F” and the “D” to read “Trev Deeley Motorcycles.”
Trev was the first in Canada to understand the impact lightweight and sturdy Japanese motorcycles would have in the marketplace, and he became the Canadian distributor for Honda in 1957; he subsequently took on distribution of Yamaha motorcycles. Both companies eventually took back distribution in Canada.
In the 1970s, Trev and his wife, Joyce, drove a new sidecar-equipped motorcycle across Canada, visiting Harley-Davidson dealers along the way.
Their daughter, Dawne, was involved with the business until the 1990s. When their East Broadway branch relocated to Boundary Road in 1996, Trev Deeley Motorcycles general manager Darwin Osarchuk removed the red neon sign and quietly began the restoration of each letter; it is now displayed in the company’s 45,000-square-foot showroom as part of the 100-year anniversary celebrations. The building at 1875 Boundary Road includes the Deeley Motorcycle Museum, featuring approximately 250 rare machines dating back over a century, collected by Trev Deeley. Among them is his favourite: a 1936 Harley-Davidson knucklehead that epitomized modernization, with an overhead valve engine, art deco graphics and available pastel colours.
The 100-year-old business is operated by long-time partners Don James, who started at Deeley’s in 1967, and Malcolm Hunter, who has been with the company since 1976. They continue to introduce two-wheeled innovation to the local marketplace through sales and service.
Over the next five years, Harley-Davidson plans 50 new models designed to maintain core customers and engage new urban riders and buyers under the age of 35.
An example of what is coming out of the H-D Product Development Center is the Harley-Davidson Livewire – a fully electric motorcycle currently in the prototype phase, being ridden and tested by tomorrow’s customers.
Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. firstname.lastname@example.org