A brief history
In order to learn a little more about the history of la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean, come and discover the people and events that have shaped its history…
Martin Bédard: He, who started it all!
Early in the 1950’s, Martin Bédard, a native of Roberval, while contemplating lac St-Jean dreamt that someday, someone would conquer this vast watery expanse and swim, in a single stretch, the 32 km distance that separates the Péribonka and Roberval municipalities. Bédard started talking to friends and experts. No one took him seriously, being convinced that such a feat was virtually impossible. Like all pioneers, Martin Bédard was tenacious and soon developed a plan. He would, however, have to wait until the summer of 1955 to see his dream come true!
JACQUES AMYOT : First to complete la traversée
Historical finish of Jacques Amyot in 1955
On July 23rd, 1955, seven swimmers signed up for the very first crossing of lac St-Jean. Of the seven swimmers present at the departure in Vauvert, only Jacques Amyot, a swimmer from Quebec City, completed the 26 km marathon. Despite the threat of winds, waves and violent thunderstorms, he managed to reach the shore in Roberval after 11 hours, 32 minutes and 10 seconds where he was welcomed by the admiring and incredulous stares of the many supporters there to greet him. As he climbed out of the water, Jacques Amyot asked for …ice cream! Later, when questioned about what had motivated him to finish the race in such bad weather, Amyot replied, “Well, I couldn’t get into the boat that accompanied me because there was no room!”
VICTORY of a Woman
In 1958, at the 4th Traversée, a first group of participants from outside Canada took part in the event. During this race, Greta Anderson, a young woman from the United States, won the marathon. The only other female swimmer to conquer lac St-Jean was Judith de Nys from Holland, championship winner of the 12th Edition in 1966.
The year 1966 was also marked by a serious accident that could have cost the lives of many people. So it was that a seaplane, flying over Roberval, crashed into the lake right next to the municipal dock where some 25,000 spectators were awaiting the arrival of the swimmers. None of the spectators were injured but, unfortunately, three of the six occupants aboard the seaplane were killed.
Record Times for the 32 km Marathon
Back in the 1970’s, Olympic athletes, who were trained to swim in pools, made their appearance in the open water discipline. Consequently, from 1974 to 1979, the American, John Kinsella, nick-named ‘The Human Torpedo’, won the 32 km marathon for 6 consecutive years. He was the only swimmer in the history of la Traversée to have achieved a perfect score, meaning “six victories in six races” on lac St-Jean. His record time of 7 hours, 1 minute and 15 seconds for the 32 km event, which was set in 1979, remained unbroken for 21 years until Stéphane Lecat, a swimmer from France, won la Traversée in 6 hours, 22 minutes and 48 seconds in the summer of 2000.
The 64KM Roundtrip
In 1984, Christine Cossette, a 22-year old swimmer from Chicoutimi, Quebec became interested in making la Traversée du lac St-Jean a roundtrip. Cossette set off from the dock in Roberval on Saturday, July 28th, at around 10:00 PM. The next day, after 64 km and 18 hours, 27 minutes and 10 seconds of striving, the young swimmer got out of the water, at the original starting point, in front of thousands of incredulous spectators. What is even more remarkable is the fact that, after completing the Roberval to Péribonka stretch in 9 hours, 29 minutes and 11 seconds, she managed to shave off more than 30 minutes on the return lap, with a time of 8 hours, 59 minutes and 9 seconds. And so it was, from 1985 until 1989, la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean became a 64 km roundtrip marathon. In 1990, la Traversée adopted a new 40 km course. Finally, in the summer of 1999, the competition returned to the traditional straight course, a distance of 32 km.
The 1992 Final World Cup
In 1992, la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean administrators were asked to host the 4th Edition of the FINA World Cup Long-distance Swimming Championship. This was the first time such a prestigious event was to be held in America. The World Cup took place in mid July, two weeks before the 38th Edition of la Traversée. Thirteen women and eight men participated. The 25 km meet took place in a triangular circuit visible to the spectators seated on the embankment. Thus, contestants swam along the shore from Roberval to Val-Jalbert, turned toward Mashteuiatsh (Pointe Bleue), and then returned to the dock in Roberval.
Record Participation in la traversée
The greatest number of participations in la Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean belongs to Holland-born Irene Van Der Laan. In 2012, she had taken on the Traversée challenge no less than 27 times!
Among men, the Argentinean, Claudio Plit, completed his 25th and final consecutive crossing in 1997. During his lac St-Jean career, Plit won the race five times, and four of these victories came in the 64 km roundtrip marathon event.
On July 29th, 2006, a Bulgarian swimmer, Peter Stoychev, matched the six consecutive victories established by the American, John Kinsella (during the years 1974 to 1979) in the 32 km event. In 2011, at the 57th Traversée, Stoychev set a new record by winning this event for a 11th consecutive time.