On the Road with Motoring: A Canadian Motorsport Legend
While traveling through the province of Quebec this summer, my family and I stopped in the town of Berthierville. If you mention the name of this town to any gearhead motorsport nut they are sure to connect it with our Canadian racing icon Gilles Villeneuve.
This was his hometown and where the legend of his driving began. After a very exciting career in motorsports going from local levels, winning numerous races and championships from snowmobiles to Formula 1, Villeneuve’s life was cut short in 1982 at Zolder Belgium when he crashed his Ferrari Formula 1 car in qualifying. He left a loss in Canadian Motorsport like no one else ever has. His memory has been kept alive in Canada by a very unique museum located right in Berthierville. As you enter the parking lot of this landmark you are greeted by a beautiful “larger than life” statue of Gilles who is keeping an eye on things. Enter the building and you see the souvenir and gift shop with every book and model car, picture and art piece related to the icon. The museum itself has the most amazing collection of “Villeneuveia “ I have ever seen. Numerous racing snowmobiles of his along with the helmets and suits he wore are laid out for viewing. His early race cars, Formula Ford, and Atlantic show his rise to stardom. Also in the museum are collections of his brother Jacques who raced in snowmobile, Formula Atlantic and Indy Car . Gilles son Jacques, was only a child when he lost his Dad, but he also became a racer and eventually the Formula 1 World Champion. He is represented in this facility as well with a couple of his famous cars on display. Also to my surprise, French Canadian race driver and automotive journalist Jacques Duval has a very prominent part in this museum. He was known all over North America in the 1960’s and 1970’s for his racing, automotive television show and yearly editions of “Auto Guide”, a book of the day’s current car road tests and ratings to assist consumers. Mr. Duval had played a part early in Villeneuve’s career and was also the post race MC of Villeneuve’s 1978 Canadian GP win in Montreal who introduced then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the stage to hand Gilles his trophy. Duval was close to my family back then as he raced with my father on our race team as the co-driver of the well known B.F.Goodrich Corvette in the Eastern Canadian Endurance Series. For myself to see photos of our car in the “Villeneuve” museum was a total thrill I won’t soon forget. I would recommend this family friendly museum for any race fan or sports nut to put on their agenda when taking a trip through Quebec. The town has a lot of things named after Gilles, and even restaurants have walls and murals dedicated to the town’s hero. The $10 admission is a bargain and a family can buy a pass for $2 0 which will get everyone in. For more information see www.museegillesvilleneuve.com
Written & Photos by Perry M. Mason