PARIS, Ont. - While setting up my camera equipment on the small patch of grass where the gated entrance of the Paris Fairgrounds meets the road, Joanne Ritchie leaned over the railing and asked if I'd...
PARIS, Ont. –While setting up my camera equipment on the small patch of grass where the gated entrance of the Paris Fairgrounds meets the road, Joanne Ritchie leaned over the railing and asked if I’d ever been present for the “homecoming” we were about to witness. In the previous five years that the World’s Largest Truck Convoy has descended upon the small southern Ontario town, I admitted that I hadn’t.
“It’s incredible. You won’t forget it,” said the executive director of the Owner-Operators Business Association of Canada, a long-time supporter of the convoy, which was honoured with sponsorship of the lead truck at this year’s event, having raised the most pledges for the convoy’s charity of choice: the Special Olympics.
And as the flashing lights of the police escort first became visible on the horizon, leading the convoy of more than 50 trucks back from their two-hour journey, and the crowd, a mix of family, friends, and industry supporters took their places lining the entranceway, waving their signs and shouting words of encouragement, I knew that Ritchie would be right.
With the blasts of truck horns mingling with cheers from the crowd as drivers eased back into the fairground parking lot, Special Olympics athletes could be spotted waving excitedly from the trucks’ passenger seats.
Amidst all the commotion, it was easy to tell why folks like Dale Hadland, a driver with International Freight Systems, keep coming back year after year.
“It’s my charity of choice, basically. It’s all for a good cause. There’s nothing political about it. The money all goes to the kids. There’s no real competition between the drivers other than who can raise the most funds. And it’s not about one-upmanship. It’s all for the kids,” he explained.
“I believe the special athletes need our help and to show the public that us truckers aren’t a bunch of non-caring drivers,” added Brian Hilton, a driver with MacKinnon Transport, and a former lead truck driver at a previous Convoy event. “Just the smiles and the laughter and the pride that the athletes get by seeing us coming in and out of the fairgrounds. Also we end up playing baseball against them and it’s a great day overall.”
The event, held Sept. 18, also included a raffle, luncheon and awards show, and by the end of the day, participants at the southern Ontario instalment were able to raise $40,000 with support from the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Transportation.
“So far, our drivers have raised $230,000 in proceeds over five years. They do a terrific job bringing in pledge money, registration money, banging on doors, talking to sponsors. It’s just terrific, the effort that’s made by these folks,” says event coordinator for the southern Ontario convoy, Tammy Blackwell. “I’ve been in this industry for 30 years and I’ve always tried to dovetail my effort to also give back to the trucking industry. I believe that the ability to profile our industry at its best is here in this convoy effort every year. I see drivers give up runs, polish their trucks. It’s a terrific feel-good day and if you’ve never been, you’ve got to come.”
Other Canadian provinces to hold the event this year included Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where drivers were able to raise $35,000 and $20,000, respectively.
For the Manitoba chapter, it was the most money ever raised, with the highest number of truckers involved (52) as well, which was music to the ears of supporters of the Special Olympics.
Since the World’s Largest Convoy got its start back in 2001, truckers in Canada and the US have raised more than $2 million in support of the Special Olympics. To learn more about being a part of the event in Ontario, visit www.sosoconvoy.com.