The Sault Ste. Marie CAN-AM Poker Run

After running and attending over 400 Poker Run events, it is safe to say that this one was “over the top”, stated Bill Taylor from Poker Runs America. “Drivers came from California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Canada to witness the inaugural VIP poker run, with $10,000 cash for the winner.”

Boaters arrived on Friday afternoon, where they checked in at the host hotel, the Delta Waterfront. Everything ran like clockwork – even the local shopping centre got involved, providing secure parking for all of the big boats and their rigs.
The drivers took a few hours on Friday to cruise the beautiful waters, prior to the big event on Saturday, and on Friday evening the crews and Poker Runners were treated first class by the City of Sault Ste. Marie, with the grand opening ceremonies at the world-famous Roberta Bondar Pavilion, named for Canada’s first female astronaut.

Crowds at the Hilton Beach Lunch Stop

Bill Taylor opened the ceremonies at the Pavilion, followed by Sault Ste. Marie’s Executive Director of Tourism, Ian MacMillan. “This event is a perfect fit for our city”, said Director MacMillan. “Not only does it give us a chance to show off our beautiful waterfront, but also the North Channel of Lake Huron, which is regarded as one of the greatest boating destinations in North America.”

Sault Ste. Marie is a boater’s paradise, located on Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake in the world. What is so unique about Sault Ste. Marie is that it shares the waterway with Sault Ste. Marie Michigan, just a half-mile across the water.

If you have the opportunity to spend a few extra days in the area, I would strongly suggest that you arrive earlier in the week, so you can enjoy the famous Agawa Canyon Railway tour – it is well worth the visit, and a wonderful experience for the whole family, bringing visitors hundreds of years back in history, through virgin forest and spectacular scenic vistas.

Another unique aspect of “the Soo” is that the area has produced more NHL hockey players than anywhere else in the world.

You  can’t miss the GO FAST! Outerlimits, powered by twin Mercury turbo powered motors.

There was some serious power on the water, including Need for Speed, Stephan Paquin’s 53’ Outerlimits with big twin Mercury turbo powered motors – helping pilot the boat were Marc and Micheline Gendron, well-known Poker Run Hall of Famers from the Ottawa area. World Champions Brian and Wilma Ross ran the waves like true experts in their 38’ Donzi, Learning the Ropes which has won several World Championships. Another “his and her” team was Kevin and Kristy Kaczan, running their 36’ Cigarette Gladiator, with all the bells and whistles. Under their canopy was PRA’s Todd Taylor, enjoying the ride. Check out the Kazcan’s cover feature – online at

Blasting across the water, and running only a few hundred feet away, you couldn’t miss the Go Fast boat, a 43’ Outerlimits owned and operated by Pat Higgins, from Quebec. Steve Dungey and his impressive 43’ Sunsation cut through the water like a hot carving knife through butter. Creeping up behind him on the flat water was Lawrence Coelho, all the way from California, throttling his Rabbit Habit … oops, make that Rapid Habit, a 28’ high-powered Dave’s Custom boat.

Another Cigarette Top Gun, ran by Ben Wiersum, brought some serious horsepower to the event, designed and built by Chief Engines and Precision Performance in Michigan. Another Michigan entry was Chris Hayes, with his impressive 42’ Fountain, Hood Rat. Who knows what he had under the hood, but it left a rooster tail at least 200 feet behind the boat! Very impressive! Running alongside was Peter and Kelly Oppermann, from Gaylord Michigan, with their 37’ Outerlimits – what a show when they hammered the throttles to the glass as they left the Tilt’n Hilton lunch stop!

Thomas Beagle Saginaw, MI powers his 32’ Sunsation.

The Sault Ste. Marie waterfront was packed with big, high ticket powerboats, ready for the battle for the $10,000 prize and the title of CAN-AM President’s Cup VIP Poker Run.

Crowds adorn the entrance to card stop #3 at the Thessalon Marina

The inaugural event attracted thousands of spectators along the shores of the North Channel in Northern Ontario, to see the first event of its kind in the area. Boats ranging from the 26’ Baja Outlaw to the full-blown 52’ Nor-Tech 5200 Roadster assembled in the middle of the St. Mary’s River before roaring off to their first checkpoint 35 miles to the east in Richards Landing, St. Joseph Island. Next stop was a short but scenic 5 miles away, where participants were greeted by the Village of Hilton Beach and disembarked their vessels to enjoy a first-class lunch at the local favourite Tilt’n Hilton Steakhouse.

With a helicopter overhead, piloted by local aviator Phil Glave of Eagle Feather Aviation, boats gathered for a massive group start after lunch and headed out to the wide-open waters of Lake Huron enroute to the Town of Thessalon, Ontario. “It was a perfect spot to “air out” the big muscle”, states Bill Taylor.

A true boater’s playground, the pristine waters of the area did not go unnoticed by those who made the trek to the Algoma Region. With four of the five cards needed in hand, crews made their way along the picturesque route back towards the Sault. Blue skies and sunny weather provided the perfect backdrop to a widely successful first run. After a brief celebration at the docks, crews were escorted in style by limousine to their dinner venue – the famous Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre, (commonly known as the Bushplane Museum) a unique local attraction dedicated to the aviation and aerial firefighting history in Northern Ontario. The Bushplane Museum proved to be a favourite amongst the participants. With near perfect weather and the hangar doors open, the venue truly set the CAN AM VIP Poker Run apart as uniquely northern and uniquely Sault Ste. Marie. The dinner venue was set for an intimate crowd of 120 people where guests experienced a true taste of northern hospitality

Poker run tour sponsors Fiji Water get set to drop the flag for the first ever VIP poker run.

Following an exceptionally catered dinner amongst the 24 vintage aircraft at Bushplane Museum, the cards were revealed and a three of a kind eights high hand declared Wayne Legge of Mindemoya, ON the $10,000 winner. The maiden CAN-AM President’s Cup VIP Poker Run participants raised their cups together to honour Poker Run’s America President Bill Taylor, his team and the Tourism Sault Ste. Marie crew for hosting what is sure to be a landmark event in both the Poker Run community and Sault Ste. Marie area.

Locals were treated to the opportunity to take a ride in support of local charity during the “Ride of a Lifetime” event held the following day. One hundred lucky riders were able to board the boats generously operated by the Poker Run participants who volunteered to stay and an assist with this exciting event.

Raising close to $10,000 for local charity – Big Brothers Big Sisters program of Sault Ste. Marie, this give-back event has provided many amazing opportunities to local youth that would not otherwise have been possible.


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