Thanks to the spring that never was, this year the cruising season here in Manitoba left the starter's gate with more of a fizzle than a bang.
But, last weekend, with great weather and a bevy of perfectly orchestrated events on the cruising calendar, local auto buffs were out in droves.
On Friday evening, the Manitoba Association of Auto Clubs presented its annual Collector Car Appreciation Day. About 200 classic and special-interest vehicle owners converged on the scenic area around the Manitoba legislative grounds to celebrate the motoring hobby. The varied assortment of vehicles on display really showcased how diverse the automotive hobby has become. The event was a huge hit with everyone, from local seniors taking a stroll down memory lane to youngsters who dream of one day owning one of these beautiful machines.
Perhaps the biggest news of the day, however, was the announcement of a special collector licence plate that will be available next spring to Manitoba motorists who own classic vehicles. Although the details haven't been totally hammered out yet, rate reductions in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent are anticipated.
Ken Benoit, a local cruiser who owns several vintage vehicles and was displaying his beautifully restored 1978 Mini at Collector Car Appreciation Day, has high hopes for the new collector plate.
"Hopefully it will relieve some of the pressure that's put on us car guys," Benoit said. "Maybe now, when the police see a collector plate, they'll realize it's just a bunch of old farts out having a good time in some nice cars and that we are not out racing in the streets."
On that note, the Winnipeg Police Service also attended the event, with a positive message for everyone in the hobby.
"The phenomenal vehicles on display here today represent people who put their blood sweat and tears into the hobby," said Sgt. Russ Heslop, a 28-year WPS veteran. "These folks understand road safety, a topic that the Winnipeg Police Service is totally dedicated to."
Although Heslop said officers will be out in full force this summer, inspecting vehicles and keeping a watchful eye out for scofflaws, he also wanted to make it abundantly clear that they are on our side.
"We are not out to ruin anyone's fun," he said. "We want to concentrate our attention on people who are ruining other people's fun, either through inexperience or perhaps immaturity, and educate those people on the importance of road safety."
On Sunday, thanks to the amazing work of the Gimli Car Club, the Cruisin' Gimli Beach Car Show hosted more than 1,000 classic and special-interest vehicles and an estimated 20,000 spectators. The event was arguably the largest and the best car show ever held in Manitoba and will be featured in an upcoming episode of My Classic Car, hosted by Dennis Gage.
"Hey man, you can't beat Manitoba -- you're great folks and Gimli is an amazing setting for a car show," said Gage, who will feature five lucky Manitoba cruisers and their prized rides in an upcoming episode of his popular American-based TV show.
"I love attending Canadian car shows. The last couple of seasons we've covered a few each year, and next week we will be in Nova Scotia."
Gage has travelled to countless auto events around the world. When asked to name the biggest Canadian car show he'd ever covered, Gage paused for a moment before giving Gimli national bragging rights.
"This is a pretty big one right here," he said, with a grin that even his signature handlebar moustache couldn't conceal. "There are no fans like Canadian fans. The car people here have it in their blood. You guys are very knowledgeable, passionate and totally gracious, and I love coming up here."
On Sunday evening, hundreds of cruisers who couldn't get enough of all the chrome Manitoba has to offer made their way to the Grant Park Pony Corral restaurant for the weekly show-and-shine.
"When the sun shines, our parking-lot is packed with amazing cars," said Pony Corral owner Peter Ginakes. "Just take a look around and you can see how passionate Manitobans are about the automotive hobby. You can feel the excitement in the air."
Although it was a beautiful weekend, it was also a deadly one: The local motorcycle community was hit hard by the death of Jared Youzwa and his girlfriend Ngan. The couple were killed last Friday when a vehicle crossed the path of their motorcycle on the Trans-Canada Highway near Brandon.
Jared, who operated Custom One Cycle in Selkirk with his father Doug, was a friend to everyone in the motorcycle community and one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet.
I first met Jared back in 2008 when he loaned us a chopper to ride for our Willy's Garage MTS television show. Jared was such a bright light that we quickly decided to put him on camera, and he shined like the star he was. From that day on, we became fast friends. It was obvious to anyone who saw his work that Jared was on his way to becoming among the province's elite motorcycle-builders.
The sparkle in Jared's eyes will forever live on in our memories of him. A celebration of Jared's life will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Good Shepherd Church, 6088 Hwy. 9A, just south of Selkirk.
Jared's death reminds me that even though we may look rough and tough on our motorcycles, the reality is that us bikers are as delicate as butterflies when we're out there riding in the wind.
Please, I beg of you, watch out for motorcycles, our lives depend on it.