Valleyfield Regatta cancelled for first time in 82 years

Bernard Lapierre stands on his broken down boat as the winnner of the 5 litre category Wally Johnston passes by, Saturday July 5, 2003, at the Valleyfield Regatta. (File: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Donald Courchesne)

There will be no motorboat races in the bay of Lac Saint-François this summer; the Valleyfield Regatta has been canceled for the first time in 82 years.

The event - which was launched in 1938 before the Second World War - was to take place this year from July 3 to 12. It is the first cancellation in its history.

Even in wartime, boats continued to race on the lake, said Regatta president Didier-Bernard Séguin.

"During the war, (motorboats) were replaced by canoes, rowboats and sailing boats,'' due to gasoline restrictions Seguin said.

Seguin described the event, which has become an internationally renowned sports festival, as a true "religion" in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, southwest of Montreal.

Year after year, the Regatta attracted 125,000 people to the bay of Lac Saint-François.

The boats, driven by pilots from as far away as New Zealand, look like Formula 1 racing cars; those of the Grand Prix class can reach a speed of 250 km/h.

The Regatta also provides $5 million in economic spinoffs to local hotels, restaurants and shops, Seguin noted.

But COVID-19 finally came to spoil the party. Health authorities have deemed it too risky to allow large gatherings in Quebec.

"A microscopic virus will have succeeded where the Second World War will not have succeeded," said Salaberry-de-Valleyfield mayor Miguel Lemieux.

He said he was confident, however, that he would still be able to attract Quebec tourists this summer.

"We are all a little shocked," Lemieux said, even if he supports the government's decision in these exceptional circumstances. "People, it's kind of their religion, it was their family party."

The event is postponed to the summer of 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2020.

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