Grass, gas, and sass. Every May, motorheads converge on Canal Flats, British Columbia, for some good ol’ cut and chase. By Dave Quinn.
Jacked-up trucks and pimped-out classics arrive in a steady flow at the Flats RV and Campground in Canal Flats, British Columbia, a tiny hamlet of 668 people at the headwaters of the Columbia River, south of Invermere. Precious loads of tricked-out racing machines are strapped to flatbeds and trailers, drawing stares and cheers from the swelling, swilling crowd. Anticipation and woodsmoke compete for the air. After all, everyone loves a good race, especially when the competitors are riding lawnmowers.
Above: Footage from the Second Annual Canal Flats event. Top: Racer Dave Bjorkman cuts a fine figure on his custom rig at the Canal Flats Trip Header in 2018. Dave Quinn photo.
These are not just any mowers, though. Last year’s second-place contestant, Invermere’s Kyle Burns, arrived on a fat-tired, heavily modified grass cutter complete with a 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 650cc engine, which the manufacturer claims can go from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in under four seconds. The only reason Burns didn’t win top spot is because he blew past one of the mandatory turns in an early heat, allowing Evan Negreiff’s lowered speedster with a stock 18-horsepower Briggs & Stratton engine to clinch first place.
The Canal Flats triple header takes place the first weekend in May and involves a wood-fired chili cook-off, a blues concert, and the mower races. It was started in 2017 by Calgary expats Kelly Kask and Kate McLean, who are helping bring new life to the Flats RV and Campground and the old school building across the highway, home to their Base Camp Coffee Shop. The event is a way for the community to shed its winter coat, get a little dirty, and party. It was well timed; the 2015 closure of Canfor’s Canal Flats sawmill, which eliminated over 150 well-paying jobs and ended a century of lumber milling in the town, hit hard.
Aside from the speed race, the weekend’s other popular event is the mower mud bog. The kids are shooed out of a knee-deep, 25-metre-long (82-foot-long) mud pit, the result of a whole day of flooding and rototilling, and riders take turns attempting to cross the morass. The event has noise, crashes, and big air (for lawnmowers), maybe a bit of blood and a lot of dirt. But what’s a little fun without getting some grit in your grin?