Driving down the road I had to stop and take a second look. The sky was filled with a bunch of little dots. As we got closer, the dots became larger and larger, and forms started taking shape. Like someone took a handful of coloured jelly beans and threw them up in the air where they stuck in the sky. What a sight to see! The 20th International Balloon Festival of St. Jean sur Richelieu runs from August 9 – 17, and if you've never been, you must make every effort to attend this fun-filled event. It is an awe-inspiring sight to see over 100 hot air balloons take flight. The crowd watches, eyes gazing upwards to take in the various forms as they majestically lift-off and fill the sky. Weather-permitting, the balloons take off at 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and the ride lasts about 1 – 1 ½ hours. Each balloon can hold 3 – 4 people, and it costs $150-175 for a ride. Besides the typical 7-story high round balloon, this festival plays host to over 20 specially designed shapes such as Tweety Bird, Clowns, a cactus, a Happy Face, and Jesus. David Justice, co-President of Celebrations Aviation, owns 3 such balloons in a Seasons motif, including the 140 foot high "Snowman" representing winter. David and his team travel throughout North America attending festivals. He rates the in St.Jean as one of the top 5 best in North America. Participants are drawn to the Festival because they just love to fly, and be with other pilots who share their passion. The free propane and accommodations offered by Festival organizers are a bonus. But what is David's greatest thrill? To watch someone go up for the first time. He states that some people are a little apprehensive before getting in the balloon, once its launched people relax and enjoy the smooth sailing and the incredible view. Where else can you float a few hundred feet above the ground, moving silently and slowly across the land. Hot air balloons go up to a maximum of 5,000 feet, and stay afloat about one hour. Factors such as air temperature and wind affect how high, how far, and how long they can stay sailing with the winds currents. The balloons depend on propane generated flames to heat the air inside the balloon and lift them to various altitudes where they catch different air currents that can move them in different directions. When their propane runs out, they have to land. This differs from gas balloons that use hydrogen or helium to create the lift and ballasts to raise and lower themselves. Balloons have come a long way since first conceived by Leonardo da Vinci. The first successful manned flight took place in 1783, and balloons were used extensively during World War 1 for military applications . Today balloons are used primarily for sport and meteorology applications.Extremely safe, there has never been any incidents at St. Jean. Strict guidelines are enforced before the balloons are allowed to take off. Weather conditions are constantly monitored by the Balloon Meister, and if there are any threats (ie. thunderstorm cells, high winds) within a 50 kilometre distance, the balloons are grounded. But there is still plenty to do at the festival. There is a large carnival with a variety of rides and booths in place, as well as food and craft kiosks, street performers, inflatable games and miniature racetracks. As well, the festival puts on a show every night including such acts as Roch Voisin, Eric Lapointe and the Star Academie. Another highlight of the Festival is the Night Glow. At around 8:30 pm, weather permitting, all the balloons that have returned to the field inflate to their majestic size and, in cue, all ignite their burners, illuminating these glorious shapes in the night sky. Truly a sight to behold.Organizers this year predict over 300,000 people to attend. According to Marie-Eve Chapdelaine, Communications Agent for the Festival, this is the largest Balloon Festival in Canada.
For more information you can check out their web-site at www.montgolfieres.com, or call (450) 346-6000. To guarantee a ride they take reservations up to 2 weeks before the festival starts. Depending on availability, you maybe able to catch a ride the day of. If you do, be sure to bring a bottle of Champagne. It is customary to offer the bottle to the farmer in who's field you land.