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50th Annual Manchester Canoe/Kayak Race

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Editor’s Note: this history of the race was written by Sybil Kolon and submitted by the Manchester Kiwanis Club. Race registration forms are available at Ash Auto, Matt Donnellon State Farm Insurance, Frank’s Place, Old National Bank and Andrews Family Chiropratic – all located in Manchester.  They are also available via email request at pattimccabe.1@comcast.net.  Be sure and visit the events Facebook page @ Manchester River Raisin Canoe Kayak Race

The Manchester Canoe Race will be held on Sunday, May 15, its 50th consecutive year, and sponsored by the Manchester Kiwanis since 2003. Jim Mann has organized the annual cleanup of major obstructions for decades, with help from members of the Men’s Club and other volunteers, being sure to leave many challenges for the novice and expert alike. Canoe and kayak enthusiasts are starting their practice runs. It’s too early to say if they will be able to duck through the culverts, or if they will be forced to portage due to high water. Either way, their supporters will be there to cheer them on as they approach the finish line.

Many extra activities are planned in celebration of the 50th anniversary.  The Village will be celebrating the opening of the Main Street Bridge, there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony, a band, and dancing on the bridge. Chi-Bro Park, right across M-52 from the canoe take-out, will host the Farmer’s Market, as well as several activities for the kids. The Manchester Area Historical Society will host an open house at their new home at the corner of Main and M-52. It will also be the kick-off of the “Make It Manchester” campaign, to highlight the charming qualities of a Village unknown to many.

In 1967 the Village was celebrating its Centennial year. Many events were planned by the Centennial Committee, including the Boat & Canoe Race on Sunday, April 22. It was a stormy, windy day, with the chance of a tornado. Thirty-one boats and canoes were entered in three classes: open boat, open canoe and father & son canoe. Everyone wanted to do it again the next year, but not in April. A few things have never changed. The race has always been on Sunday afternoon, starting at Fellows Bridge on Sharon Valley Road, and ending just before the dam on the east bank in downtown Manchester.

In 1968, two Ladies classes were added for boat and canoe. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce sponsored the race from 1968 until 1975. Although the father & son classes were not officially open to daughters, the winner’s pictures tell the story of a few girls who knew how to paddle or row. The Optimist Club took over in 1976.

The original $1 entrance fee went up to $1.50 in 1973. By 1987, when the Jaycees co-sponsored with the Optimists, the fee was $5. Entrance forms were available at Gambles Hardware Store until 1983, later at Krauss Pharmacy. 1987 was the last boat race, as interest in rowing down the river declined. The sprint races started in 1989. Kayaks were added in 1994.

In early May of 1988, canoeists started asking about the race. The Optimists were apparently no longer optimistic about the state of the race. Local enthusiasts from the southwest corner of Manchester Township took things into their own hands, got the Chamber of Commerce to sign on as sponsors again, and saved the day. Due to the required planning, it was not held until June 12, at the height of one of the worst droughts in memory. Portaging wasn’t necessary, but walking the canoe was, in several places. It was undoubtedly the slowest running ever, but it kept the streak alive.

In 1989 the Manchester Recreation Task Force took over. In 1991 there were patches commemorating the 25th annual canoe race. The number of entries is not recorded for every year, but it appears that 100 entries in 2000 is the record to beat.

Bill Schwab was a key organizer starting in 1989, when he took over updating the scrapbook used for this history. He was a member of the Recreation Task Force and the Kiwanis, which took over in 2003. The Kiwanis have continued as the sponsor ever since, building on years of experience to make it one of the best-organized events around. Many volunteers perform various tasks, from registration to hauling out the canoes. The Washtenaw County Sheriff provides marine patrol and the Village provides much needed support downtown.

The day promises to be one to remember. There will be something for everyone. Come and join the fun and experience what community really means. We have it here – Make it Manchester!

The original scrapbook of the first 41 years will be housed at the Manchester Area Historical Society’s new home. Additional details about the history of the race will also be available there on the day of the race.

Race registration forms are available at Ash Auto, Matt Donnellon State Farm Insurance, Frank’s Place, Old National Bank and Andrews Family Chiropractic – all located in Manchester.  They are also available via email request at pattimccabe.1@comcast.net.  Be sure and visit the events Facebook page @ Manchester River Raisin Canoe Kayak Race.

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