The first race to be held at the Ile-Notre Dame Circuit in Montreal was to turn out to be one of Formula One’s fairytale stories. It was the day that Ferrari's Gilles Villeneuve, born in the French-Canadian city, took the first win of his F1 career setting up wild scenes of celebration after the race. After replacing Nikki Lauda at the previous year's Canadian GP, Gilles was asked to carry the pressure of the whole of Italy to deliver another championship, and this win showed that he was more than capable of doing so.
The race had moved to Montreal after Mosport Park was considered too dangerous to race on by the drivers, led by Villeneuve. So the Montreal authorities hurriedly made a track on a mad-made island on the St Lawrence Seaway in Montreal, the – site of the rowing competitions during the 1976 Olympic Games held in Montreal. The drivers complained that the circuit was too narrow and very difficult to overtake on. At this race Ricardo Patrese made his return after serving a one-race ban for his part in the crash that claimed the life of Ronnie Petersen at Monza, a penalty felt unfair by some but justified by others.
Jean-Pierre Jarier led from pole at the start, followed by Jody Scheckter in the Wolf, Alan Jones' Williams and Villeneuve. The main action on the first lap involved Emerson Fittipaldi spinning into Hans Stuck, causing Jacques Laffite, who had qualified highly in the Ligier, to drop to the back of the field while taking avoiding action. At the end of the first lap going into the final hairpin, Jones managed to get into second place when Scheckter ran wide. Then on lap 6 Mario Andretti, the recently crowned world champion, was out of the race after he collided with John Watson.
On lap 18 Alan Jones then began dropping back after he collected a slow puncture and was caught and passed by both Scheckter and Villeneuve. Villeneuve then passed Scheckter and moved up to second place, but he was 30 seconds behind Jarier. On lap 50 Jarier went into the pits with no brakes. A leak was found in the system and the car was retired. This left Villeneuve in the lead and he cruised home to take victory with his future Ferrari team-mate Scheckter in second and Carlos Reutemann in third. The Canadian crowd went wild, and many knew that this was the beginning of something special.
Unfortunately Gilles was killed 4 years later at the Belgian GP in Zolder, robbing F1 of one of its greatest ever talents, but his maiden win will always live long in the hearts of all true race fans.