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The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival is a yearly festival, held in Gatineaumarker, Quebecmarker, Canadamarker, and organized by the city, during which hundreds of hot air balloons are flown. It is normally held over several days in late-August and early September during the Labor Day Weekend.


Filling balloons for the festival
Balloon riding during the 2005 Festival

Jean Boileau era and the festival's beginning (1988-2001)

The festival started in 1988 by Jean Boileau and attracted about 50 000 visitors and about 50 balloons. Through the following years the festival became much larger and was one of the biggest festivals in Canadamarker. Attendance at one point reached over 225,000 people and had over 150 balloons. In 1998, the festival was also hosting the World Hot Air Airship Championship, which was disputed by 16 teams from Europe, Chinamarker and the United Statesmarker.

However, while it had continuous growth over the years, 2001 was the year that had transformed significantly the face and structure of the festival.

Fatal accident and festival departure (2001-2002)

On July 14th 2001, Boileau who was the general manager since its beginning was involved in a horrific hot-air balloon accident just east of the Ottawa International Airportmarker on Leitrim Road. The balloon, while trying to land in an open field, struck some hydro wires after a sudden wind gust. It suddenly engulfed in flames. Boileau sustained multiple burns while trying to rescue his 15 year-old daughter, Julie, who was trapped inside the balloon's basket. Unfortunately, the rescue effort failed as the girl died instantly while two other people also sustained burns. Boileau, despite the fact that a subsequent Transport Canada report which mention that the accident was caused by a pilot error and bad weather conditions, was later honored by then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson for bravery. In 2007 a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the La Baie Park for Boileau's daughter known as the festival's first volunteer and a tree was also planted on site in her honor in conjunction of the festival's 20th Anniversary which also honored the founder of the festival.

After that event, he never piloted a hot-air balloon and left his general manager spot of the Festival afterwards - some speculations were that the new city of Gatineau administration of Yves Ducharme tried to force him out of the job by offering a spot for the new city as chief of communications. He was handled that position for a few months during rehabilitation, but the position was later removed and changed as the position of director of communications and the City did not appointed him due to health reasons caused by his accident. Some speculated that the Ducharme administration wanted to remove people who were associated with the former city of Gatineau's last mayor, Robert Labine and Ducharme's mayoral rival in the 2001 elections for the new city of Gatineau. However, a settlement between the city and Boileau was made in 2003. The departure of Boileau had also put the Festival's future in doubt as several of his associates also left the Festival's organization.

Boileau is currently the communication director of the Université du Québec en Outaouaismarker

The festival after the amalgamation of Gatineau (2002 to present)

In 2002, the new city of Gatineau was formed and immediately it announced changes which included a new logo and a significantly lower number of balloons that participated; 75 down from 125 in the prior year. The attendance remained steady in the post-Boileau era showing a very little if any drop attracting about 200,000 visitors.

While the festival had stability by having one general manager for its first 13 years. There were several others after Boileau's departure including former president of the festival and Gatineau councillor Paul Morin, followed by post-Boileau general managers Diane Chevrier and Daniel Simoncic and Fernand Lavoie. Francois Grenier is the current general manager.

Also, well known local businessman Martin Lacasse was president for the several years but left in April 2006. Alain Fredette became the new president in 2006. Finally, Yves Ducharme was defeated in the 2005 municipal elections by fellow councillor Marc Bureau. The 2006 edition was held with a new president, general manager and city mayor.

Notable singing performers during the history of the festival

Several well-known artists performed during the Festival over the course of its history since 1988. Among those included:

Other features of the festival

During the past several years, the festival was also the venue for an annual qualifying event for the World's Strongest Man Competitions. Gatineau's own and former policeman Hugo Girard won the event several times to reach the world championship finals but Jessen Paulin, another Gatineau-area strongman won the event in 2005 and 2006. In 2007, the festival was the host of the North American Strongmen Competition that featured six competitors from Canada and six competitors from the United States.

There is a mini amusement park on the site which usually attracts young people but also features rides for toddlers. There is also a mini-zoo.


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