Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Johnny Sombrero, the larger-than-life leader and founder of the Black Diamond Riders Motorcycle Club who died last week at age 81.
Hundreds of mourners packed a Toronto funeral home Saturday to pay their respects to Johnny Sombrero, the larger-than-life leader and founder of the Black Diamond Riders Motorcycle Club who died last week at age 81 after a lengthy battle with diabetes and heart disease.
“The legend lives on,” said one grey-haired biker wearing a BDR patch who attended the visitation and service on Weston Rd., not far Sombrero’s north Toronto stomping grounds.
The remembrances were attended by members of several affiliate clubs including the Houston-based Amigos MC, with some travelling from the U.S. to offer their tributes. Also known as Harry Barnes, Sombrero is survived by his wife of 58 years, Maire Barnes, five children and seven grandchildren.
While he had brushes with the law decades ago, including a court case over his storage of a gun collection, friends and colleagues remembered him as an old school throwback to the day when bike gangs were about freedom and rebellion and showed respect for one another.
News reports in 1963, however, described the then 28-year-old as a “beefy, tough-talking” leader of a 200-strong gang of thrill-seeking riders that “terrorized high school dance halls, staged brawls and administered serious beatings to whoever was considered an opponent.”
The article also reported on a series of “lightning police raids” on BDR headquarters that saw Sombrero jailed for three months on a liquor charge.
As well, BDR riders took part in a clash in the early 1990s with rival Canadian motorcycle club the Satan’s Choice after a reported attempt to encroach on the gang’s Sudbury territory resulted in a melee in the parking lot of a hotel.
And the Star described a “motorcycle gang battle” that resulted in charges against Barnes, who the report described as a plumber by trade, after a bar fight left a man with a brain injury that required surgery.
A reputation had built up around Sombrero and BDR as evidenced by a reference in the 1980s Blues Brothers film that was a nod by actor Dan Aykroyd to the club from his home province.
Despite the notoriety, Sombrero’s daughter, Sabrina Robinson, said he was loved by many, including the children in north Toronto who would gather around the leather jacketed biker’s Indian motorcycle when he rode into their neighbourhoods.
“A lot of people have an idea what a biker is,” Robinson said. “But he wasn’t like that. He never smoked, didn’t do drugs,” and he didn’t like tattoos.
“He was colourful and he definitely had an independent streak,” added Toronto lawyer David Costa, who defended the then aging biker in 2011 against unsafe firearms charges that were dismissed after a gun expert for the defence testified Sombrero met or exceeded the requirement of safe storage laws.
“He didn’t like to be pushed around,” Costa said, noting as well that Sombrero was an expert collector and gunsmith who provided firearms consulting services to Hollywood moviemakers.
Sombrero’s daughter said her father’s life as Supreme Leader of the BDR began when he founded the club 60 years ago in his late teens, inspired by a love of guns, bikes and the open road.
She said the BDR club and charter continue to exist, although original members who are still alive are mostly in their seventies.
Robinson said her father should be remembered as a uniquely Canadian “cultural icon” and a patriot, noting that his body was adorned with a poppy at the open-casket viewing. She said he lived life to the fullest and stuck to his credo — no guts, no glory.
“He was true to his principles and absolutely loyal to everyone around him.”
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