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Mission & District
Soapbox Derby

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Did you know...

...that from its humble beginnings in 1946 as a minor part of the Mission Board of Trade's Strawberry Festival, the Mission Soapbox Derby grew to be a major event eventually overshadowing the Strawberry Festival, attracting 20,000 people in 1956. In 1974 due to a lack of interest and the withdrawal of a major sponsor the derby was cancelled, and although there were many attempts to resurrect it, the derby was not re-established until 1999, a quarter of a century later. The first new race was held on 01 July 1999, sponsored by the Mission & District Lions Club along with businesses and community groups. The Mission Mission & District Soapbox Derby Association has been running the derby since 2002.

source: Mission Museum

Mission Soapbox History

The Soap Box Derby brought many thousands of people to Mission every year during its run and up to 20,000 at its peak. It began in 1946 after local businessmen and the Board of Trade decided to hold a Strawberry Festival in Mission. The goal was to provide funding for a much-needed addition to the hospital after the war and also to promote the waning berry industry.

Jimmy Gunn, a committee member on the Board of Trade, thought of putting on a Soapbox Derby in conjunction with the Strawberry Festival. Both events were held on Main Street from Grand to Horne Street. Boys aged from 11 to 16 years of age were allowed to enter. In the following years the soapbox cars had to be built to strict specifications by the boys, without receiving any outside help other than advice. The boys usually spent two to three months working on their cars, which were carefully inspected for safety and eligibility at each derby.

Mission's first derby in 1946 (a "wildcat" race) was a big success, and the following year, Mission's Soapbox Derby became a franchise of the American Soapbox Association. Becoming affiliated with the American Soapbox Association meant that the winner in Mission went to Akron, Ohio to race in the All-American Soapbox Derby Championship finals. In 1949, the increasing popularity of the derby caused it to remain on Main Street while the festivities of the Strawberry Festival were moved to the Fairgrounds (at 7th and Grand, now the site of the Leisure Centre).

By 1950, the derby was a province-wide contest. Teams of volunteers and sponsors, including GM Motors and Shell Oil, pooled their resources to ensure the event ran smoothly. In 1953, to accommodate the derby's increasing popularity, the city of Mission built a new track at the Fairgrounds to the same specifications as the track in Akron. Many considered the event a "character building experience" for the boys and the network of adults that supported them. The whole community that had worked diligently to make the derby a success was repeatedly praised by neighbouring communities and beyond.

The derby's success surpassed everyone's expectations and in 1956 the Strawberry Festival was dropped to focus exclusively on the derby. In 1958 the derby had over 200 contestants, representing over 40 different communities. However, the increasing number of entries and competition to build better cars contributed to a decrease in local entries and the cost of staging the event had also increased with its popularity. Because income from the Strawberry Festival had offset a considerable part of the cost of staging such an enormous event, it was becoming more and more difficult to continue on revenues from the derby alone. Although the Soapbox Derby had a multitude of sponsors, they did not provide sufficient monetary contributions to offset the costs.

In the following years, the Soapbox Derby became more and more difficult to put on, due to a lack of funds and declining local interest. Eventually, GM Motors withdrew their sponsorship and the event was dropped in 1974.

The Mission Soapbox Derby was restarted on 1 July 1999 as a yearly event after an absence of over 25 years. It was sponsored by the Mission & District Lions Club along with businesses and community groups.

That years' Soapbox Derby marked the first event held by the Mission & District Soapbox Derby Association.

The Mission & District Soapbox Derby Association actively seeks Mission Soapbox Derby memorabilia. Please contact Keith Hine.

More information on the history of the Mission Soapbox Derby can be found at the Mission Museum website. Please note that the Build A Racer instructions on the Mission Museum's website are not up to date. Go to our resources page for current build instructions.