Standing up for Aylmer, standing up for principles
Sometimes, the principle of the matter is its best argument. Such was the case for John Large, local organizer of the Canadian Criterium Challenge, held in Old Aylmer, June 29. An Aylmerite and veteran racing event organizer, Mr Large insisted the event be held in Aylmer.
As a boy, his father organized such a race in Ottawa for years, and he carried on bringing street cycling racers to Martinique and Morocco, as well as cycling tours in Spain. Mr Large is no stranger to elite racing or pleasure cycling.
And so it was with some confusion that he faced Gatineau city’s push to have the race in another part of Gatineau -- after he selected Heritage Square in Old Aylmer for the 2016 event, a first for Aylmer. Why would city analysts discount his expert opinion? Why would they work against all the organizing established by players on the ground?
As with any neighbourhood event in a large city, the biggest challenge is get local players to put in the groundwork needed for an event to fly. For the Canadian Road Cycling Championships, this was accomplished in Old Aylmer. Mike Clemann, owner of the British Hotel and Restaurant complex, gave the event carte blanche to use his rue Principale site – perfect!
The Canadian Road Championships had two other events booked in Ottawa-Gatineau for the days prior to the Road Cycling Races – perfect! Racers from across Canada and elsewhere had bunks (at Carleton University) to camp in – perfect! The Canadian Olympic Committee had visited Old Aylmer and approved the venue – perfect! Ward 1 councillor Josée Lacasse was busy helping with permits for street closures for the event and its after-party – perfect!
Local businesses, media and volunteers were committed – perfect! The business association, APICA, was coordinating preparations of all the businesses – perfect! The city-funded rue Principale re-vitalization project had people on the ground helping organize the players – perfect!
Why, then, would anyone at the city respond to this ideal confluence of efforts by moving the event out of Aylmer? Dumbfounded, John Large insisted the Road Race be held in Aylmer. He stood up for his convictions, responding to the city that if they tried moving it elsewhere, he would withdraw his support and involvement. His determined sense of what is right is an inspiration to us all. He knew he had a winning formula for a new Old Aylmer event, and he stuck by his guns.
Wednesday, June 29, opened a whole new world for many Aylmerites. The cyclists, in tight packs of whizzing wheels, sailed past wide-eyed kids and adults - the spectators had an experience usually reserved for far-away, ocean-side cities. Restaurants were full, neighbouring streets were peppered with team bike repair trailers and resting areas. The vibration in Old Aylmer was one of physical prowess and success.
When the Canadian Olympic Committee announced the Olympic and Para-Olympic cycling teams from the steps of the British Hotel, its former manager watched with her incredulous eyes. She had seen so much at the British Hotel – people and planners with convictions, and plenty without. On June 29, she saw Olympians and their support teams as they push toward their next elite challenge, the Rio Olympics. Like John Large, Mike Clemann, and the rest of Aylmer, she had proof that standing up for convictions -- in the face of institutional opposition -- pays the biggest reward. Mr Large did more than bring an elite and memorable racing event to Aylmer. He reminded us to stand for what is right.