We are now into February, which is the heart of the winter, and there is no snow in Toronto – or any throughout the GTA, for that matter.
Yes, somewhere in the land there is snow, but not around here.
Although people are scratching their heads and the usual climate change/global warming theories are springing forth, this sort of thing is not that unusual.
In fact, the construction in 1964 of the famous Quebec sports car racing circuit, Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant, came about precisely because, for two consecutive winters, there was so little snow in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal that it just about killed the tourist industry.
Here’s what happened (some of which has been related in two books on Canadian racing, Challenge by the late Len Coates and The Chequered Past by New Brunswick university professor David A. Charters).
First, Quebec is a place where la neige is the culture. The words to Mon Pays, the anthem of 1960s Quebec nationalists, talk about la neige (snow), la glace (ice) et du froid (the cold). It's what makes Quebec, well, Quebec.
Mont Tremblant was discovered and initially opened up in the early 1930s by a Norwegian named Herman "Jackrabbit" Smith-Johannsen. Shortly after World War II broke out, Joseph Ryan, a Philadelphia millionaire and father of the ill-fated Canadian racer Peter Ryan, partnered with Smith-Johannsen to build the famous Mont Tremblant resort and to open up the area for other skiing and skiing-related businesses.
It goes without saying that the owners of hotels, lodges, guest houses and restaurants in the nearby village of St. Jovitte made money like bandits. They worked non-stop from mid-October to late April but then closed up shop for the summer and went to Europe on vacation. Life was good.
(We interrupt this narrative to direct your attention to the image at right of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso at the unveiling in Maranello, Italy, last Friday of the 2012 Ferrari. As you can see, all the snow that isn't in Toronto is in Italy. We now return you to our regularly scheduled column.)
But then came the winter of 1961-62 and there was no snow in the Laurentian Mountains. It was cold, and there was a dusting on occasion, but nothing substantial to attract skiers (it would be another decade before snowmaking came into vogue).
It was during the spring of ‘62 that a local innkeeper, Leo Samson, who – like all the other business people in the area – had lost a lot of money because there had been no winter, started to talk about building something that would attract people to the area in the summertime. If winter was really over, Samson figured, then money had to be made in the summer or else they should all pack up and pack it in.
He got the idea of a race course after going to the circuit at Watkins Glen, N.Y., with Peter Ryan in 1961 for the U.S. Grand Prix. He'd come away impressed.
When the winter of ‘62-63 was not much better than the year previous, Samson appealed to the other locals about the importance of building a racing-car circuit. Although there was enthusiasm, few were sufficiently convinced that they actually offered up money, so Samson went it alone.
He bought land and then approached Quebec racer Jacques Duval who, in turn, took the idea to the Montreal MG Car Club (Ross de St. Croix, president), which had already been talking about building a track in Quebec to rival Ontario’s Mosport, and the rest is history.
With the participation, guidance and drive of individuals like Duval, de St. Croix, John Ross and Norm Namerow, among many others, Le Circuit-Mont Tremblant opened for business in August, 1964.
Le Circuit has since had a rocky existence. Home to Can-Am, Indy and Formula One races from the mid-1960s until 1970, it fell on hard times and has opened and closed sporadically pretty much ever since.
Incidentally, I consider Mont Tremblant - now owned by moneyed Montreal interests and in business once again - to be the most glorious natural setting for a car-racing circuit in the world, particularly in the autumn.
With the sky a deep blue, and the riotous fall colours everywhere on the surrounding mountains, it is breathtaking being there.
That was then and this is now, though, and - unlike those two years in the early Sixties - they actually did have snow in Quebec last weekend.
Antoine L'Estage of St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., and co-driver Nathalie Richard of Halifax opened the 2012 Canadian Rally Championship season by winning the Rallye Perce-Neige in Maniwaki, Que., in a Mitsubishi Lancer Évo.10.
(Those two always win, by the way.)
Second place overall went to Leo (Crazy Leo) Urlichich of Toronto and co-driver Carl Williamson of Swansea, England, in a Subaru Impreza WRX, followed by Sylvain and Simon Vincent of Terrebonne, Que., who finished third overall, also in a Subaru Impreza.
The Canadian Rally Championship is made up of six events held nationwide in a season that extends from February to November. The series is presented by Subaru Canada, supported by Yokohama Tire Canada and features contingency programs from Subaru Canada and Mitsubishi Canada.
Next up is the Rocky Mountain Rally in May.
The Canadian Association of Rallysport (CARS) is the official sanctioning body for rallying in Canada.