Mission Soapbox Derby

After the hardships of the Second World War, Mission residents needed a celebration. The berry industry badly needed a boost after the internment of so many Japanese-Canadian berry farmers, so the Board of Trade rallied together with local businessmen to start the Strawberry Festival. Mission Memorial Hospital was also in desperate need of funds, and the hope was that the Festival would serve as a donation drive as well. In 1946, the inaugural Strawberry Festival was held on Main Street from Grand Street to Horne Street. As part of the festivities, it included a Soap Box Derby. Allowing boys aged 11 to 16 to enter, the soapbox derby cars had to be built to strict specifications by the boys themselves, without receiving any outside help other than advice. Usually spending two to three months working on the cars, they were carefully inspected for safety and eligibility at each Derby.

The first year of the Derby was a huge success as onlookers enjoyed watching the cars zoom down the course in their makeshift soap box cars. Planning to continue the Derby as an annual event, the 1947 race landed Mission in some hot water when the All-American Soap Box Derby Association discovered that Mission’s Soap Box Derby was infringing on their copyrights.

Luckily however, instead of quashing the small-town event, an agreement took place which gave the Mission District rights to an American Soapbox Association franchise, meaning that the winner in Mission would go on to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby Championship Finals in Akron, Ohio. This franchise later extended to all of Western Canada, and by 1950 the Derby was a provincial-wide contest. This allowed Mission’s Derby to grow in popularity and receive big-name sponsors like GM, the Fraser Valley Record, Shell Oil and the Province Newspaper. The Province even gave the event full-page publicity, praising Mission’s strong volunteer base and community spirit.

To accommodate the Derby’s increasing popularity, the city of Mission build a new track in 1953 at the Fairgrounds. Many considered the event a “character building experience” for the boys and the network of adults that supported them. The whole community that worked diligently to make the Derby a success was repeatedly praised by neighbouring communities and beyond.

The Derby’s success surpassed everyone’s expectations and in 1956 the Strawberry Festival was dropped to handle the Derby exclusively, which subsequently attracted 20,000 visitors to Mission that year. In 1958 the Derby had over 200 contestants representing over 40 different communities. However, the increased number of entries and competition to build better cars had also caused a decrease in local entries. The cost of staging the event had also increased with the rise in notoriety. Because income from the Strawberry Festival had offset a considerable part of the cost of staging such an enormous event it was becoming more and more difficult to continue on revenues from the Derby alone. Although the Soapbox Derby had a multitude of sponsors, they did not provide sufficient monetary contributions to offset the costs.

Due to declining local interest, the derby was cancelled in 1974 after GM withdrew their sponsorship. In 1999, sponsored by the Mission & District Lions Club, the derby was started again. It was taken over in 2002 by the Mission & District Soap Box Derby Association and has taken place annually ever since.

Interested in participating? For more information on the current Mission Soapbox Derby, visit http://www.missionsoapbox.com/

Soapbox Derby Champions (1946-1973)

1946 – Lorne Nicholson (Mission)
1947 – Lorne Nicholson (Mission)
1948 – Gerry Hughes (Mission)
1949 – Paul Olsen (Mission)
1950 – David Mussallem (Haney)
1951 – Gerald Seigo (Haney)
1952 – Gary McRae (Haney)
1953 – Fred Cameron (Haney)
1954 – Fred Wyder (Trail)
1955 – Ray Biggs (Nanaimo)
1956 – Norm Morrison (Chemainus)
1957 – Ernest Hancock (Naramata)
1958 – David Woodley (Chemainus)
1959 – Brian Hancock (Naramata)
1960 – Holger Huhn (Osoyoos)
1961 – Ray Mack (Naramata)
1962 – Howie Hebig (Osoyoos)
1963 – Bob Karr (Chemainus)
1964 – Clive Parker (Naramata)
1965 – Wayne Cummins (Medicine Hat, Alta)
1966 – Rick Lewis (Hinton, Alta)
1967 – Stuart Garner (Quesnel)
1968 – Rodney Million (Calgary, Alta)
1969 – Dennis Lissimore (Mission)
1970 – Kerry Mckinnon (Calgary, Alta)
1971 – Wayne Halabourda (Vancouver)
1972 – John Vantol (Prince George)
1973 – Gary Semenuik (Edmonton, Alta)