One of the last living links to Prince Edward County’s place in power boat racing has passed away.
James Gordon Thompson, the mind and means behind the Miss Supertest family of power boats that rose to fame in the mid 1950’s and allowed local waters to be the grand stage for international speed record attempts and Harmsworth challenge races, died peacefully at Parkwood Institute in his native London, ON Thursday.
Thompson was 94.
Born in London, Ontario on December 18,1926, Thompson attended Ridley College, the Royal Canadian Naval College, the University of Toronto (Engineering), and finally, the University of Western Ontario (Business). From 1960 to 1971, he was President of Supertest Petroleum, a company co-founded by his father, John Gordon Thompson.
Local power boat racing historian John Lyons was saddened to hear the news Thompson had passed away.
“(He) was man who was able to make not just his own dream, but that of an entire country come true,” Lyons said on the Miss Supertest Facebook fan page this weekend. “In this world, where they are so rare, he was the very definition of the word ‘Gentleman’. At this time, we extend out most heartfelt sympathies to the James Thompson family.”
Thompson applied his gifted engineering mind to the design of Miss Supertest III, an Unlimited Class hydroplane speedboat that won three consecutive Harmsworth titles, emblematic of the world championship in the hydroplane racing world.
Prior to the storied world championship string , Miss Supertest II achieved the world speed record in 1957. His accomplishments in the speedboat world were honoured by his induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame and the London Sports Hall of Fame. The story of Miss Supertest III was commemorated by special stamps issued by Canada Post, an initiative assisted by Lyons.
The Thompson family chose Prince Edward County- Long Reach and Picton Bay specifically-for the world speed record attempt in the fall of 1957 as the course allowed the Rolls Royce engine and pilot Art Asbury to get up to 296.96 Km/h and set a new world’s record.
When driver Bob Hayward and Miss Supertest III won the 1959 Harmsworth Cup race on the Detroit river, the Thompsons elected to return to Prince Edward County in 1960 to host a successful title defence and again in 1961 as Miss Supertest III was a three-peat winner. Tragically, the death of Hayward aboard Miss Supertest II just weeks after winning the world’s title would lead to the Miss Supertest line of craft being retired.
The international showdown brought much notoriety to the community with then Prime Minister John Defienbaker attending as the guest of Picton Mayor H.J. MacFarland.
In a statement from the Thompson family, the patriarch was called a modest and quiet gentleman who was an active supporter of the community.
“He contributed to and shared his knowledge with numerous organizations in London including the Salvation Army, the YMCA, St. Joseph’s Healthcare London, Children’s Health Foundation, Victoria Hospital, Fanshawe College, Huron College, SARI Therapeutic Riding and St. John the Evangelist Church. He was a founding member of the London Power and Sail Squadron and was for many years the Honorary Colonel of the 1st Hussars. His contributions to community were recognized with a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. Very fittingly, the Masonic Lodge, of which he was a long-time member, presented him with the John Ross Matheson Award for his “distinguished service to his community, his country and mankind.”
A member of the London Business Hall of Fame, Thompson enjoyed a wide variety of hobbies and pursuits. These included piloting small aircraft, sailing, golfing, machining and gunsmithing, assembling electronics, boat building and crafting furniture.
Thompson rested at the Woodland Cemetery. Arrangements in the care of Harris Funeral Home. A celebration of his life will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Jim’s honour to the Salvation Army, the YMCA or a charity of your choice would be appreciated. Condolences can be sent directly to the family at firstname.lastname@example.org .