Gear up for the big day
Francis Latour’s pink threshing machine was on display during a fundraiser to support breast cancer research in St. Albert on May 19. The RCMP Musical Ride was on hand to provide entertainment while Latour’s thresher helped build excitement for his next attempt to take back the Guinness World Record. Van Dusen photo

Running smoothly
Francis Latour invited participants set to join the August Guinness World Record threshing event to get out and practice during the Victoria Day long-weekend. Machines took to the fields to make sure everything is running smoothly before the big day.
Van Dusen photo

ST. ALBERT – Francois Latour bustles about a field behind the St. Albert Cheese Factory Victoria Day weekend, trying to organize six things at once. He knows almost everybody and everybody knows him.

In one area, Latour is talking to some of his supporters repairing and testing bulky threshing mills; then he rushes off to make sure a reporter gets through the gate for a performance of the RCMP Musical Ride; then he stops to chat with Marie Claire Ivanski about the breast cancer research campaign; and then… well, it goes on and on.

It wasn’t always like this. He wasn’t always one of the most familiar faces in Francophone Eastern Ontario. Back when he was looking for support for his 2015 bid to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by gathering the most working threshers ever in one place, he was mostly greeted with a blank stare.

But then he did it with 111 sputtering tractor-thresher combos on this same field and there was a surge of pride throughout the region; that was quickly followed by mass disappointment after a Manitoba group snatched the title away with 139 threshers. 

Leaving nothing to chance, Latour and his team did some threshing warmup drills over the holiday weekend behind the Cheese Factory, a 125-year-old cooperative and spiritual home of Franco-Ontarian agriculture in Eastern Ontario.

These days, they’re spending much of their time tracking down old threshing mills, replacing belts, repairing them, and generally getting them in gear to compete Aug. 11. The whole community is involved in the effort; it’s not unusual to drive by a farmyard in the area and spot a couple of threshers sitting there, waiting for the big day. Latour has promised that more than 200 of the vintage machines will be on hand to reclaim the title; to Latour, that outcome is a certainty.

Latour is a passionate man and, in this case, winning is everything to him. After all, he’s doing it in the name of his deceased wife Suzanne who succumbed to breast cancer the same weekend in 2015 that he entered the Big Book. In that round, he raised $23,000 for breast cancer research.

This time out, Latour has pledged $100,000. As a side fundraising project on the Victoria Day weekend, the threshing crew hosted a performance by the storied RCMP Musical Ride which drew 900 people – 250 of them non-paying kids – netting about $6,500 for the cancer cause.

The highly-trained RCMP horses and riders added St. Albert to their 2019 tour when they heard that the cause was cancer research, said Ivanski a prominent Eastern Ontario volunteer for the cause over 15 years. Ivanski said the $100,000 goal is realistic with more than $30,000 already banked from donations and sideline projects such as the Ride.

The riders took their steeds through their patented paces, demonstrating the various formations that have made them famous. Despite all the rain and flooding in the region this spring, only one corner of the cordoned off performance ring was wet, with the horses kicking up water and mud when they passed through it.

“Not bad for a long weekend when the weather was iffy,” stated Ivanski as she coordinated sales of pink memorabilia under a canopy, yet more revenues to add to the final tally… which, she believes, will be the largest amount ever raised for cancer research in the region from a single event.

Pink is the colour of the Guinness challenge, with an antique Massey-Harris tractor pinked-out as well as the same brand of thresher painted free of charge by Robin Cayer of Embrun Collision Inc. who also donated $10,000 to the cause. The plan calls for cancer survivors to operate the pink thresher Aug. 11.