Canada’s largest ATV Derby returned this year to large crowds and enthusiasm as the residents of St. Jean Baptiste, Manitoba, were ready for another successful event.
Committee member Chris Bird says the much anticipated event required the help of a lot of people and hard work to organize.
“Our group consists of seven committee members and roughly about 200 volunteers. To give some perspective, the town of St. Jean Baptiste is only about 550 people,” Chris says.
The St. Jean Derby is now in its 19th year since it began in 2001, and has raised over $250,000 for local community groups.
“It was started by a local group and was originally designed to support youth athletics, specifically our local hockey arena, which was in need of funding at the time to keep programming active,” Chris explains.
Since then, the Derby has grown significantly, and now they support groups all over town.
“Some of the programs we support through the ATV Derby are after school programs. We provide additional funding to help kids and families purchase books and lunches. We also helped the youth hockey program purchase equipment like hockey nets and jerseys. We try to help our local church and senior groups so they can buy supplies and other things they might need,” he says.
A Full Weekend of Fun
The Derby takes place on the third weekend of September each year with events kicking off on Friday night
“The Friday event is a newer one for us, and it’s called Friday Night Lights. We built a racetrack on property near the campground area, and people come in and sign up and do mud racing with their own ATVs. It’s kind of like a party atmosphere with the souped-up ATVs and all their lights and sound systems. It’s just another way to really make an entire weekend of it, because the next day, the Derby starts,” Chris explains.
Organizers and volunteers have been working on getting the course ready, and they make sure to make it something everyone can enjoy.
“The Derby is an opportunity for people of all ages and skill levels to participate. We recut the course every year because flooding fills it all back in, but we really try to make it unique every year.” he explained.
“It can be up to about 30 kilometers long. It’s set up so riders with at least some familiarity with ATVs can ride safely. Then we have check stops. We have mud holes of all different skills so people can jump into them. Some are deep enough for the water to reach your neck. We also have mud pits and different elevations of water so everyone can have fun,” Chris says.
“We also offer a halfway-point check stop with a full lunch offering homemade chili. St. Jean also used to be the Pea Soup Capital of Canada, so we serve pea soup as well. We also have beverages and snacks so the riders can stop halfway through the track to take a break,” he says.
A True Community Event
Over the past 19 years, the event has earned its title of Canada’s Largest ATV Derby thanks to its high turnout.
“The turnout at the Derby is close to 2,000 people, almost quadrupling the size of the town. It’s a pretty remarkable thing,” says Chris.
Having so many people in town at once has its challenges, but the residents of St. Jean Baptiste are always ready to help.
“Everyone in town is in some way influenced by the Derby or participates in some way. People in town will give us their parking spots for visitors and they really step up when we have that many visitors in town. One year we were so busy and there was nowhere people could go, so some people actually let visitors put up tents and camp in their yards,” explains Chris.
Coming together just comes naturally to the people in the community.
“It’s the long tradition of community support, from the businesses to the residents. I think it’s just a way of life here. I’ve seen people in this community go through hard times and one family needed a new roof put on their house. I’ve seen the community come together to buy the materials and donate all the equipment and time and skills to reroof the entire house,” says Chris.
“We’re in this unique environment that almost feels like a slice from the past. The community is very active and when we can get nearly half the town to help out at an event like this that supports so many groups, that’s something really special,” Chris explains.
The Derby isn’t the only group in town helping to bring more to the community.
“There are other groups in town that help us. There’s an organization called H.O.K. – Help Our Kids. They fundraise for a once-a-year summertime carnival with face painting and different entertainment and activities for kids, and it’s all free. They do this so every kid can come out and have fun without worrying about their parents being able to afford it,” he says.
Celebrating Two Decades of Derbys
“Next year is our twentieth anniversary. We’re still brainstorming what we want to do, but we’ve come a long way since our first one. When we started, we had about 75 machines participating and raised about $2,000 and now we average about 1,200 machines. We raise about $40,000 to $60,000 every year now and over $250,000 has been raised in total since the event started,” Chris says.
This year, participants enjoyed camping, food trucks, a beer garden, and entertainment. To learn more about the event, you can visit their website or their Facebook page.