Hemmingford native Roy Greer has added a record-breaking skidoo to his snowmobile collection, and he is now sharing its story with vintage sled enthusiasts at such events as the Ormstown Vintage Snowmobile Show, which was held at the fairgrounds on August 28.
Greer’s love for snowmobiles began when he was a child, when his uncle would take him out on his machine every weekend. He eventually joined the Hemmingford Snowmobile Club. “I was really into skidooing when I was a kid; I still have my uncle’s 1970s skidoo from back then,” he says. He is now a snowmobile collector who lives in Fort Erie, Ontario; he collects and sells vintage machines and parts, primarily from the 1970s, and this takes him all over North America for shows like the one in Ormstown.
He bought the special 1985 Skidoo Formula SS from his friend Henry Bieda, who used it to set two unofficial world records in the late 1980s. The first record was for crossing Lake Ontario’s water on snowmobile, and the second was for the farthest distance travelled on water by snowmobile.
Greer and Bieda became friends in the late ‘80s when they were both living in southern Ontario and were both involved in the snowmobile business. During that time, Bieda completed his two records in what is now known as snowmobile watercross, a sport in which racers hydroplane their sleds across unfrozen lakes or rivers. It started in the ‘70s as a daredevil activity and evolved into a competitive sport.
Bieda and his employees spent the better part of a year and a half working on his dream of crossing unfrozen Lake Ontario on a snowmobile. They modified the machine, installed a floatation device in the seat, and even built a large pond on the property to test the snowmobile on water. At the time, a stunt like this had never been done across one of the great lakes.
Finally, on August 22, 1988, accompanied by a cameraman and the Canadian coast guard, Bieda made his way to Port Dalhousie, Ontario to attempt the crossing. “With visibility perfect from Port Dalhousie straight across to Toronto, [Bieda] responded to a heckler’s pestering and unexpectedly jumped on [the snowmobile] without his life jacket and launched the sled from the sandy beach,” writes Bieda’s son Stephen in an essay recounting the event.
It took Bieda 42 minutes to cross the 51.5 km (32 miles) to Toronto Island, going at about 96.6 km/h (60 miles per hour) the entire time, as speed is necessary to keep the sled from sinking. However, according to Bieda, when he contacted Guinness World Records to alert them of his record-breaking stunt, they told him they didn’t intend to open a new category as they were only keeping track of watercross records for distance. The following summer, Bieda decided he wanted to beat THAT record.
At that time, the watercross world record for distance was 107.8 km (67 miles). Bieda and his team spent the year working on that same 1985 Skidoo Formula SS that had crossed Lake Ontario to prepare it for a much longer distance. On June 11, 1989, Bieda became the unofficial world watercross distance record holder by running his snowmobile 161 km (100 miles) nonstop on water. He did laps of the Old Welland Canal for almost two hours, only stopping when he ran out of gas and sank.
Greer purchased the record-breaking sled with no intention of using it. In fact, when he purchased it, there was no longer a motor in the snowmobile. “I bought it for [the nostalgia] and its historical value,” says Greer. “[I wanted] to take it around to shows like [Ormstown] and to tell the story.” Bieda’s distance record has since been broken, and while the man himself has also passed away, the story of the only snowmobiler to cross Lake Ontario on water lives on.