Pigeon racers have lofty aspirations

Robert Fisher
Staff Reporter

BARRY’S BAY – Neil Gonzalez got into pigeon racing through his father. Gonzalez’s father and uncle kept and raced pigeons in Trinidad. The sport of pigeon racing was popular on the island in the 1950s and 60s and throughout Europe. There was an active pigeon racing community in Canada, too.

“When he left Trinidad, he started keeping pigeons here in Barry’s Bay in 1979,” Gonzalez explained. There was a club in the area called the Madawaska Valley Racing Pigeon Club and it had as many as 12 or 14 members at its most active. There were more than 100 members in various clubs through the Ottawa Valley, “back in the good times when racing was really popular,” Gonzalez remembered.

It wasn’t just competitive, it was a social event, too. There would be a big end-of-season picnic with the families along with races. “It was a family affair with kids at the clubhouse. A real social aspect to the sport,” Gonzalez said.

From those active days, participation in the sport has dropped off quite a bit and Gonzalez said the number of people keeping birds in the area is far fewer than in the past. He feels there are a few factors involved in the decline of the sport. Keeping and raising pigeons, he said, is a form of livestock husbandry. Like a typical farmer, the animals have to be tended to meaning it’s difficult to take time off if a fancier; the name for a person who keeps and breeds pigeons, can’t find someone to come and do some basic care while s/he is on holiday. People’s schedules are much busier now than in the past with children being shuttled to and from various activities.

“You have to invest the time. It doesn’t come easily. There’s a lot of work,” he explained.
Larger urban areas have put new bylaws and restrictions in place that make keeping pigeons in an urban area more difficult which, Gonzalez believes, has contributed to a decline in the number of people in the sport. Complaints from residents about pigeon populations in cities and towns led to municipalities putting restrictions in place on racing birds in the mistaken belief those were the ones causing the problem.

Gonzalez said, while they are the same species of bird, it’s not the racing pigeons that are messing in town squares and the ones people toss cubes of bread to. “My birds are either in the loft or in the air flying,” he said. Gonzalez will sometimes get a call from someone saying one of his pigeons is loose and they aren’t his birds, they’re wild pigeons.

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