TEMISCAMINGUE, Que. — It all began in 1981, when a dozen truckers decided to add a sense of excitement to a local fishing tournament by organizing a friendly race in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Que.
Thirty-nine years later, Rodeo du Camion has grown into an annual event that attracts tens of thousands of spectators, all drawn to this tiny municipality by the deafening roar of big block engines and demonstrations of power.
The community itself also continues to reap plenty of rewards that emerge through the billowing clouds of truck exhaust.
About $5.6 million in donations collected since 1986 have supported various organizations in the surrounding Abitibi-Temiscamingue region, Montreal, and elsewhere in Quebec.
“We should reach $6 million for the 40th anniversary next year. That’s our goal,” says event general manager Julien Allaire Lefebvre, who has helped organize Rodeo du Camion for 19 years. Every dollar in profits goes back into the community, supporting seniors’ residences, educational projects, organizations and schools.
Each year more than 600 volunteers from throughout the Abitibi region also keep Rodeo’s wheels rolling forward, while spectators come from around the world. About 75% of last year’s 80,000 visitors came from outside Quebec, including Columbia, Finland, and China.
“They come a little before the event and leave a little later. They visit the surroundings and visit the museums. According to a study done two years ago, we are talking about a total of $9.5 million in economic benefits thanks to the Rodeo du Camion, within a radius of more or less 200 kilometers,” Lefebvre says.
An evolving event
The event is also evolving with the times.
To help offset the environmental impact of soot-laden exhaust, Rodeo du Camion has partnered with local nurseries to plant trees throughout the municipality. Even the event’s office adopts environmentally friendly practices.
“We have also made a lot of improvements to the safety of our facilities,” Lefebvre adds. Fences are now used to control crowds, the track is now validated by insurance companies. Barriers are constructed using the same concrete blocks that the Ministry of Transportation uses on Quebec highways.
Further measures at the entrance to the site and a related campground help to keep the crowds under control. A full medical team arrives on the Wednesday night before race weekend, and another 85 security guards support local firefighters and paramedics.
“Festivals are sort of imposed on citizens, so we involve them throughout the process with committees and information sessions,” Lefebvre adds, when asked what the locals think about Rodeo du Camion.
“I think they are more and more happy about the work we do.”
Racers are certainly happy with the work.
“Notre-Dame-du-Nord is my hometown. I grew up in it and I always dreamed of doing that,” says Guillaume Bergeron. When it’s Rodeo time, he parks the 2015 Kenworth W900L that he drives for TFI International’s Contrans division in favor of a 1984 Western Star.
This will be his eight year running up the local hill.
The truck has a historic connection to the race in its own right. It once belonged to legendary racer Donald Vachon, now retired.
“More and more, those who can afford it have two trucks,” Bergeron says, referring to the financial commitment to racing. “One for work and one for racing, because race trucks are often broken.”
He admits some local residents aren’t race fans, but stresses that others have come around.
“There are a lot of volunteers involved and in recent years. The Rodeo has become a more family event, a little less rock and roll,” he says.
There is even business to be conducted.
Temisko, a trailer manufacturer located in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, has been involved in the Truck Rodeo since the very beginning. “It’s a natural fit for us,” says president and CEO Nelson Pouliot. “There are many former employees who are involved in organizing the Rodeo. It’s the biggest truck festival in Quebec, and it’s always good to be associated with something that’s a winner.”
Temisko makes its site available to the organizers, especially for vehicle storage during the festival. That’s on top of a trailer, maintenance support, and an all-important inventory of replacement parts.
“Many of our staff are volunteers during the Rodeo, and we always have a booth on the exhibitors’ site,” he says.
Pouliot describes the Rodeo as a unifying event that reinforces the sense of pride in the community. “It’s not easy to organize such a big event,” he explains. “The Rodeo brings a lot of visibility to the municipality. Many people would not know Notre-Dame-du-Nord if it was not for the Truck Rodeo.”
This year’s Rodeo du Camion runs Aug. 1-4.
- Quotes in this story have been translated from comments originally made in French.
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