A memorable fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Belleville was the Mighty Moira Rubber Ducky Race, a joint venture for the Club and the Telephone Pioneers. The fundraiser required the purchase of a ticket on a numbered duck who you hoped would win the race floating down the Mighty Moira River. In the first year we had 30,000 tickets to sell at five dollars each and we came close to achieving the target, selling approximately 25,000 tickets. Our obligation was to guarantee 20% of the proceeds of the sale of the 30,000 tickets or $150,000. In other words, the prizes had to be equal to 20% of $150,000 or $30,000.
Rotarian Bernie Ouellet reported that “We had to tag every damn duck with a number that corresponded to the ticket number and then after the race we had to retrieve, clean and send them off to the next race.” The rental of the ducks was a fundraiser for the Alberta Heart & Stroke Foundation, so in the end everyone benefitted.
In the first year of the event, for prizes, the Club obtained from Rotarian Jamie Trudeau and Trudeau Motors a Suzuki Tracker. Other prizes included a boat, motor and trailer as well as a fur coat from Rotarian John Ashley and Ashley Furs.
When it came time for launch day all of the rubber ducks were put into a dump truck. A plywood slide on the side of the river was built allowing us to dump the ducks into the water. The problem was that there was not enough water for the ducks to float in, so we spoke to the people in charge of the dam on the river. I can remember saying “leave the dam open a little bit longer and I will promise you another case of beer!” I don’t remember paying that debt, but can remember the controller on the river saying, “if I leave the dam open much longer the fish will be flopping in the Moira river!”
The Elliott Foundation had supported us with a grant for the event and Mrs. Edith Elliott was on hand for the launch day. As we prepared for the launch, one of the hydraulic hoses wrapped around her foot but luckily we were able to catch her before she was knocked to the ground. Rotarian Bob Michaud Jr. and City Councillor Jack Miller provided announcements from a boat in the middle of the river. Wouldn’t you know that on the day of the race we had a south to north wind and actually the rubber ducks were floating upstream. To the rescue came the Belleville Fire Department who arrived with their hoses, attempting to flush the rubber ducks down river.
There was a lot of work performed by both Rotarians and the Telephone Pioneers. One such person was Margo Holoway whose home became ticket central. We sold tickets right up until midnight at the Belleville Waterfront Festival with the launch the very next day. In total, we raised $212,000 for the hospital during those first three years.
The 1st prize was the Suzuki Tracker, won by Rotarian Jim Pine’s son Curtis who was about six years old at the time! Jim was on his way to visit his Mom in Northern Ontario when we called to tell him he had won he was convinced that Jim’s friends were playing a trick on him.
Chairs and co-Chairs for the event over the years it ran included Bernie Ouellet, Bob Michaud Jr., Ian Brady, Samantha Kane-MacKay and John Lanning.