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Picton played centre stage to almost lost story of sweethearts of power boating history

Prince Edward County will be featured on the big screen when a nearly-lost story of Canada’s 20th century power boat racing sweethearts premieres Wednesday in Gravenhurst.

“It is another little-known chapter of Canadian boat racing history that happened in Prince Edward County,” said Picton’s John Lyons, whose family has a long association with power boat racing. “The period previous to the Second World War and just after, the Miss Canada boats and Harold and Lorna Wilson were the biggest names in Canadian power boat racing and Picton Bay played centre stage to them on quite a few occasions.”

Harold & Lorna, World Water Speed Champions, is a docu-drama of love, thrilling adventure and perseverance in the world of international powerboat racing.

Harold was the driver and Lorna was his mechanic. “She was absolutely fearless,” said Lyons, noting this first ever male-female racing team won the World Championship two years running – in 1933 and 34. “I think this race at the CNE was the first world championships held in Canada so it was extra special for the home town team to win the championship.”

The couple gave 60,000 fans their greatest thrills when they won the President’s Cup in America in 1939 and the entire team was presented the cup at the White House by President Roosevelt.

“Twenty years of putting Canada on the map of international boat racing made them darlings of the American press and household names,” says director W.A Plumstead. “But six decades later, Harold and Lorna Wilson have nearly disappeared from the map of Canadian sports heroes. It’s time to redress this lapse.”

“Harold & Lorna is a profoundly Canadian story and a tribute to the Gravenhurst boat builders and engineering innovators from Ingersoll who took on the might of Great Britain, Italy and the United States,” said Jamie Smith, executive producer. “The Miss Canada name dominated racing from 1934 to 1950.”

The docudrama, produced by Muskoka Film Works, is a unique blend of interviews with people who knew the Wilsons, historic footage, photographs, news stories, and dramatic invention.

A great deal of background information was shared by Lyons, who recently spearheaded a campaign to honour another famous Canadian boat – Miss Supertest III – with almost two years of letter writing, emails, phone calls and presentations. His work culminated last year during Miss Supertest’s 50 anniversary, as Canada Post unveiled a commemorative stamp collection and the Hayward Long Reach was re-dedicated as a heritage site.

Loading Harold and Lorna’s boat into Picton Harbour.

“While I was working on the Miss Supertest research, I came across a lot of information on the Wilsons racing in the County and on their Miss Canada boat and got in contact with Harold Jr.,” said Lyons. “I also sent him a copy of his own birth notice that appeared in The Picton Times in 1950. He had never seen it before and it just went to prove how big of a boating community the County was back then.”

Researching at the Prince Edward Archives in Wellington over the past year, Lyons managed to create a large binder filled with County newspaper stories.”

“The boat is the same calibre as Miss Supertest was in the 50s and 60s, but this was the 30s and 40s,” said Lyons. “Without Miss Canada, there probably wouldn’t be a Miss Supertest and probably not a PE Yacht Club. It was the success of putting on boat races as part of the town’s centennial that provided the impetus to convert the old power station into the yacht club.  The County was like a ground zero for power boat racing.

Harold, and his father Ernie who owned the racing team, were made life members of the PE Yacht Club by then commodore Jack LeHeup. They painted the PE Yacht Club flag on the side of all their boats so every race they went to after that, Prince Edward County was well represented.

A big headline, in the Picton Times on June 19, 1936, announces local regatta officials had been informed that world record holder Little Miss Canada IV was to race on Dominion Day at VanDusen’s Cove, Picton Bay. Admission to the races was 23 cents, plus two cents tax.

The Picton Gazette reported about 2,000 people viewed the races. “The huge crowds which enjoyed the regatta were keyed up to fever pitch as the Little Miss Canada IV rounded the first buoy and straightened out for the fastest half mile Picton people had ever been privileged to see here.”

In 1937, the Picton Times reported the Prince Edward Gold Cup races were officially sanctioned by the American Power Boat Assocaition – “no small honour for it implies the course is recognized as one of the finest on the continent”. And a bonus for Picton’s Centennial celebrations. “The Wilsons, the biggest name in Canadian power boat racing, were there,” said Lyons.

Harold Wilson took his Miss Canada II to the American Gold Cup race in 1938. In all his past successes, The Times reported, Wilson has had the racing company and assistance of Miss Lorna Reid, but “no woman has ever raced as driver or mechanic for the Gold Cup and committeemen are thumbing through the rules to see if there is anything to prevent Miss Reid taking part provided, of course, she is willing to take the risk”.

The two married and continued world-class racing until her first pregnancy.

Miss Canada IV was the first Canadian challenger for the Harmsworth Trophy, emblematic of world supremacy.
And despite problems at the Harmsworth races, Wilson knew he had the fastest boat in the world. In the fall of 1950 the Wilson racing team came to Picton to set a new world speed record to avenge the Harmsworth losses. The record was Harold’s lifelong ambition. On the first trial run he was clocked at 174 mph.

Jim and Gordon Thompson bought Miss Canada IV after the Wilson family retired from racing in 1950 renaming her Miss Supertest I  They set out on a path to an official world speed record  (184.5 mph in Miss Supertest II) and three consecutive Harmsworth Trophy wins ( in Miss Supertest III, 1959-1961).  Jim’s success on the world stage as designer, owner and occasional driver for the Supertest team and as ambassador for the sport led to his induction in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1960.

David Fox, acclaimed Canadian actor, leads the Harold and Lorna docu-drama’s cast of established and young, emerging talent.  The towns of Gravenhurst and Ingersoll, IMT Corporation and the Antique & Classic Boat Society Toronto joined the BG Capital Group to support the project.

“There are a few gaps in the story related to Picton,” said Lyons, because of large gaps of newspapers missing from the Prince Edward County Archives. “There are no Picton Times from 1945 to 1962 and there’s a decade’s worth of Picton Gazettes missing. So, for example, there was a big race in 1947 and I have no idea how it turned out. Hopefully it will be revealed in the movie.”

Lyons will get his answer tonight as he was rewarded for his efforts with an invitation to attend tonight’s premiere and invitation-only black tie reception.

The DVD is to be released later this year. Visit www.haroldandlornamovie.com

‘Harold & Lorna’ film premiere ‘Afterglow’ black tie gala at Muskoka Heritage Centre with producer Jamie Smith, president Harry Wilson and researcher John Lyons.

Filed Under: Featured ArticlesSports & Recreation

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  1. Heather says:

    Great article, I will watch for the video release. Nice to see historic information getting published and recognized.

  2. virginia says:

    Fascinating. never heard of these people before!

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