Keeping the Passion Alive—Sledding in Geraldton from One Generation to the Next

Editor's Note: As President of the Geraldton Snow Club, Michel Lafrance is well-accustomed to sharing his enthusiasm for snowmobiling. Geraldton is located in the Greenstone region of Ontario's Sunset Country, in the north western part of the province above Lake Superior. Below, Lafrance relates his origins in snowmobiling and some of the challenges that their little club faces.

misty sled

What can I say, it’s a passion—snowmobiling is in my blood. I’m sure many of you have heard the same from others. In my case, the story goes back to the mid 70’s. While my father wasn't big on snowmobiling or any other recreational activities that involved motors, lucky for me, my uncle was. His passion for snowmobiling goes back to the 40's and 50’s. Now nearly 80 years old, the need for speed is very much in his blood! So, visiting with my uncle was always a treat as a young kid because I knew I would on a sled. One day he told me, if you can pull the cord and start it, I will give it to you! Wow. Being 8 or 9 years old, that was the ultimate prize! Needless to say, I wasn’t able to start that old Olympic, but somehow he still gave it to me. I’d often come home to mom with a big burnt hole in the front of my snowsuit, from the machine backfiring.

2012 x-mas parade
Times sure have changed over the years. In my 20’s, my passion for snowmobiling was burning hot. The only problem was that I was newly married, had a few kids and was broke! So it was from the sidelines that I watched. The 80’s and 90’s saw a great number of snowmobile races and activity in the
Longlac area, my home town. There was no shortage of talk about snowmobiling. Once in a while, I would get lucky and a friend of mine would be nice enough to lend me his machine! What a treat that was. The last 15 years or so have been pretty good to me. Now a little more financially stable, I started buying a number of second-hand sleds and was able to enjoy riding the trails with my wife and 4 kids. Now with family a little smaller, newer sleds were purchased. Many hours have been spent over the years on rebuilding engines and working out other mechanical issues. A few years back, the Geraldton Snow Club president at the time approached me and asked if I'd be willing to join the executive committee of the club. At the time I was a bit reluctant, but I went for it anyways, and I haven’t looked back since.

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Extreme challenges now face the Greenstone area snow clubs. Living in Northern Ontario has always been a challenge for any volunteer organization, and snow clubs are no exception! We live far away from any major population centre—there's only about 4500 people here in Greenstone, down from 6500 back in the mid-nineties when the forestry industry was at its high point, but the area covers some 2400 square kilometres, making it the second largest municipality as far as land space goes. Due to challenges in the local economy, a few clubs have had to shut down due to a lack of volunteers and permit sales. But our love for the sport and the commitment of the volunteers that have stuck by us have made it possible for our clubs to survive. The Geraldton and Longlac Snow Clubs, along with the Marathon Snow Kickers, are the only remaining clubs in the area.

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Last year was our first year operating as independent clubs, meaning that we no longer receive any direct financial support from the OFSC. This makes us very much unique and, true to our nature, we not only met our minimum 50 snowmobiling permits per club requirement, we exceeded it! As club members, we're willing to go the extra mile to provide recreational opportunities to our communities, and a well-groomed trail system for visitors to enjoy. And living up here, well, it’s a guarantee that there will be snow!

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On a personal level, my love and passion for the sport have driven me to work hard at it. Last season my son and I put more the 6000 km each on our sleds, all within the Greenstone region, and loved every minute of it. My youngest son, Kyler, has always been out there with me in the garage working on these sleds. At 17 years old, he is already a very good mechanic and definitely has a love for the sport, and also understands the value of being a volunteer. I’m happy to have passed on this passion to him, as my uncle did to me.This year our club is still alive, and I’m so looking forward getting out on the snow! 

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About Michel Lafrance

Michel Lafrance is the current President of the Geraldton Snow Club and an avid snowmobiler.

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