Organizers of the annual Mission Soapbox Derby say the event will not happen in 2019. They are hoping to revive it in 2020. / File Photo.

Organizers cancel 2019 Mission Soapbox Derby

A lack of volunteers and the need for a permanent track are main reasons for decision

The 2019 Mission Soapbox Derby has been cancelled.

Keith Hine, president of the Mission and District Soapbox Derby Association confirmed the announcement on Monday morning.

“I don’t know what to say, the race is off for this year. I’m disappointed.”

Hine pointed to two factors that forced the cancellation, a lack of volunteers and the need for a permanent track to hold the races.

“Everybody seems to like it, but nobody wants to take that one hour a month to come to the meetings and maybe work an extra few hours during the year,” said Hine.

While he feels more volunteers could be found, the bigger of the two factors is a lack of a permanent track.

The soapbox derby is held in June each year along Stave Lake Street. A section of roadway is blocked off to traffic and lined with hay bales – both along the track and at the end of the track – to keep the drivers safe.

Hine said, last year was the last race that the hay bales would be available to the association.

For years, the hay has been transported and basically donated (a small fee is paid) by a local man. However, Hine said it is his understanding that the donor is now retiring and the land where the hay was stored has been sold.

“We are talking about 1,175 bales of hay, four semi trailers full. I knew right away that it was the start of a big problem,” said Hine.

Rather than find another person willing to transport and donated more than a thousand bales of hay each year, creating a permanent track seemed to be the logical solution.

Hine said he began meeting with the district to discuss options for the event.

“I wanted to have it back at the Leisure Centre – the original track – even for just one or two years,” he said.

However, because of the coming seniors’ centre project, that site cannot be used at this time.

Hine said Mary Street seems to be the perfect location.

“The road needs work. Because when you come out of the gate at the top by Sixth Ave. it drops really fast then there’s a hole and a bit of an angle. But it could be a permanent track because that street is not used,” said Hine.

In order to make it safe for racers, a guard rail would have to be installed on both sides and then only 100-200 bales of hay would need to be brought in at the finishing area.

“It’s only one day a year… It would be a shorter track, but the kids would gt more than two runs in the day.”

But Hine said the association would need the district’s help to grade the street, and that will be costly.

While he plans to continue working on creating a permanent track, Hine said it will take time.

“It’s sad to say, but it’s too late now to start planning for something like this for this year.”

The association has about $18,000 put away to help pay for the creation of a new track, but that likely wouldn’t cover the cost of the rail guards, let alone the grading.

Hine said he is now focusing on the 2020 derby.

Michael Boronowski, manager of civic engagement and corporate initiatives at the District of Mission said the soapbox association has approached the district with its dilemma.

“We have had so preliminary discussions with them. We would love to work with them,” he said,

However, the Mary Street idea may not be the perfect option.

“Just resurfacing a street would cost well over $100,000. Regrading would require tearing up the street and rebuilding it,” said Boronowski adding that would make the price much higher.

For now, he said the association should present the district with its ideas.

“We need to know what specific options they’d like to bring forward and we can get traffic engineers and the team working with them in earnest.”

Until then, the derby is cancelled.

This year’s soapbox derby would have been the 20th event, since it was relaunched back in 1999.

The first soapbox derby in Mission took place in 1946 as part of the Mission Strawberry Festival.

The first year of the derby was a huge success as onlookers enjoyed watching the cars zoom down the course in their makeshift soap box cars.

Planning to continue the derby as an annual event, the 1947 race landed Mission in some hot water when the All-American Soap Box Derby Association discovered that Mission’s Soap Box Derby was infringing on their copyrights.

However, instead of quashing the small-town event, an agreement took place which gave the Mission District rights to an American Soapbox Association franchise, meaning that the winner in Mission would go on to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby Championship Finals in Akron, Ohio.

By 1950 the derby was a provincial-wide contest. To accommodate the derby’s increasing popularity, the city of Mission build a new track in 1953 at the fairgrounds.

The derby’s success surpassed everyone’s expectations and in 1956 the Strawberry Festival was dropped to handle the Derby exclusively, which subsequently attracted 20,000 visitors to Mission that year. In 1958 the Derby had over 200 contestants representing over 40 different communities.

However, the increased number of entries and competition to build better cars had also caused a decrease in local entries.

Due to declining local interest, the derby was cancelled in 1974.

In 1999, sponsored by the Mission & District Lions Club, the derby was started again. It was taken over in 2002 by the Mission & District Soap Box Derby Association and has taken place annually ever since.

Hine said anyone who want to volunteer to help plan the 2020 derby can call him at 604-830-1349.

– with files from

the Mission Museum

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