Our F1 Fan in Canada is now on her merry way elsewhere in the land of the maple leaf, but before leaving Montreal she popped by a rather special museum…
The Gilles Villeneuve Museum is situated around an hour and a half’s drive north of Montreal in the small Quebec town where Gilles grew up, Berthierville. It’s an unassuming building, not far off Autoroute 40 on, naturally, Avenue Gilles Villeneuve, painted bright red and marked by the statue of Gilles set in a grassy spot on the edge of the parking lot.
We arrived on Tuesday lunchtime to the sight of items arriving from the Crescent Street exhibition – the bodywork from the 126C2 Ferrari lay in the back of an otherwise empty truck parked outside – and the museum entrance itself is through the giftshop. A bronze bust of Gilles sits overlooking that door, and as you walk through you hear stirring orchestral music and the dulcet tones of Murray Walker drifting through the relatively small but fairly comprehensive collection. Countless trophies from various championships, from Gilles, his snowmobile champion brother Jacques Snr. and his Formula One world champion son Jacques Jr are scattered throughout, joined in their glass cases by race suits, race programs, helmets and more. One of my favourite items was a well-loved looking white helmet scribbled on with blue and red felt pens, ostensibly a precursor to his eventual, famous helmet design.
Visitors are able to settle down and watch some of Gilles’ races, as at the Crescent Street exhibition, as well as participate in their own races of sorts with a large Scalextric-like track set up in the middle of the room and several racing video games.
Perhaps the most significant items displayed at the museum are the second place trophy given to Gilles at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, during which teammate Didier Pironi, interpreting Ferrari’s instruction to slow down differently to the Canadian who expected them to hold station, completed a pass on Gilles for the lead on the final lap, leading to Gilles’ prophetic declaration that he would never speak to Didier again. Elsewhere in the museum lies the race program from the subsequent Grand Prix of Belgium, the last race weekend Gilles would ever compete in. But make no mistake, there is no focus on the ghoulish here –
Gilles’ death is only referred to in captions, and the only artifact I could find from that terrible weekend is the aforementioned race program – it is a celebration of the lives of the Villeneuve family with Gilles at the fore.
The museum itself is perhaps due a spruce up, it may be small compared to, say, the Beaulieu National Motor Museum in England, and the collection may not fulfil everyone’s expectations in terms of the number of items from famous and infamous moments in Gilles’ career, but there is a sense of pride in what’s on display. Gilles Villeneuve is still considered by many in Canada to be a national hero, and this museum is an admirable tribute to a remarkable racer.
For more on Gilles, read our review of a great book on the man here: Life of a legendary racing driver
For more our Fan Diary from Canada, read them all here: Canadian Grand Prix Diary