Off to the Races

From the beginning, the exhilarating Mission Soap Box Derby put the small town of Mission on the map. The first ever race in 1946 was the highlight of the inaugural Strawberry Festival, a community event which was launched to boost spirits and revitalize the berry industry after World War II.

To comply with a copyright issue with the All-American Soap Box Derby, the Mission District signed onto the American franchise in 1947, with the agreement that the Mission winner would compete in the Championship Finals in Akron, Ohio. Mission’s Soap Box Derby became so successful that it expanded into a province-wide event in 1950. 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 contestants, aged 11 to 16 years old, learned many skills as they were required to comply with strict specifications, including solo construction of racers. The hand-crafted vehicles were carefully inspected before each race to ensure they followed safety regulations. Many considered the event a “character building experience” for the contestants and their support network.

Speeding Ahead

On July 1, 1953, the first permanent soapbox derby track in Canada opened at the Mission Fairgrounds. The Mission’s Soap Box Derby connected our city with many communities and attracted thousands of spectators. In 1956 the Strawberry Festival was dropped to handle the Derby exclusively, which subsequently attracted 20,000 visitors to Mission that year.

Carrying on the Legacy

The Strawberry Festival had offset a considerable part of costs of staging this popular event, but it was difficult to rely on Derby Revenue alone after the Festival ended. Due to declining local interest, the derby was cancelled in 1974 after GM withdrew their sponsorship of the event. In 1977, the Mission Leisure Centre was constructed at the site of the Mission Fairgrounds and derby track. Despite attempts to relaunch the race, it did not resume for another twenty-five years.

The Mission District Lions Club, along with other businesses and individuals in the community, sponsored the event in 1999 so that the derby could continue. It was taken over in 2002 by the Mission District Soap Box Derby Association.
The races are currently held every June along Stave Lake Street, as the association no longer has a permanent location to hold the Derby. The event had to be cancelled in 2019 due to a shortage of volunteers and resources, but event organizers are working to secure a permanent track for this iconic local event to continue.