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SC Rewind: Racing On The Ice

Published: February 11, 2017 10:18 am ET

Last Comment: February 13, 2017 11:39 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the days of long ago when harness racing on ice was a popular winter pastime. His reminiscence is mainly pictorial in nature, showing the various vehicles and venues that the horsemen used.

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the days of long ago when harness racing on ice was a popular winter pastime. His reminiscence is mainly pictorial in nature, showing the various vehicles and venues that the horsemen used. Also included are a couple of accounts of race days held on the ice and snow covered courses.

​Equine Artist Elaine Macpherson's rendering of ice racing on the Ottawa River circa 1898. (Displayed with artist's permission)

​​For almost as long as there has been harness racing, some form of it has existed in the winter time. Ice racing was once a popular winter pastime and usually in the very old days it was more of an attraction to the participants than any spectators it might attract. Old photographs show the simple format that most ice racing followed. The race course was not always all that well-defined and the spectators usually looked half-frozen​​. As one who doesn't ca​re too much for the cold, I can certainly sympathize with them to a person. ​

​​I came across an interesting piece as part of a story I was doing about the famous reinsman Earle Avery of Woodstock, New Brunswick. He had the following to say about ice racing:

"When I was a young man in New Brunswick, we used to race on the ice in the Saint John River. I've raced when the temperature would drop as low as 40 degrees below zero. It was the best fun you've ever seen. We put caulks on the shoes of the horses and the caulks would cut into the ice for the smoothest, most rhythmic ride of all...the horses didn't mind the cold; neither did the drivers."

​Shown below are a couple of photos from 1954 and a short account of the races being held. ​ I am guessing that these races were without purse money and perhaps outside of the sanction of any racing body as I was unable to find reference to them in the always reliable U.S.T.A Year Books.

​On Sunday Feb. 7, 1954 a crowd of 3,000 people gathered to watch the nine race card at the Quebec Exhibition grounds. In a special match race Vic Song, driven by owner Paul-Emile Jobin defeated Frolic Hanover (Henri Canton up) in a mile clocked at 2:46. The facilities were provided for free by the track management which consisted of Jacques Gravel and Henri Bertrand. All of the proceeds were turned over to a local Boy scout group. ​

​Bayard Hanover, a 14-year old and driver Armand Cote defeat Kerr Scott, a 16-year-old driven by Dr. Gustav Beaudet in the final event of the snow racing program held at the Quebec City track. Following the event Wilfred Hamel, Quebec Mayor presented a trophy to the owner. It is interesting to note that a huge pile of snow blocks the view of the tote board. [Harness Horse]


Here is another shot of trotter Bayard Hanover as the winner, this time driven by Dr. Beaudet at the Quebec City track with less snow and a view of the tote board. This horse seemed to be at his best on a snow covered surface [Harness Horse]


A field rushes to the wire on the frozen ice of Lake Banook at Dartmouth, N.S. in the final heat of the International Free For All Pace being staged on Feb. 14, 1954​. On the far left Tonymite (5) is the winner for driver Don Turner. The winner of the companion F.F.A. Trot was Lusty's Queen (Walker) held the previous day. [Harness Horse]


Over the years I have accumulated quite a number of old pictures depicting ice racing which are shown below​ .If anyone in the reading audience has a story to tell, please do so otherwise the pictures will have to do the talking. ​

Horses reach the small group of spectators gathered to watch on the Erie Canal


Left: A rather large crowd watches the finish of an ice race on the Ottawa River many years ago. Right: ​The horses reach the finish on Lake Banook, Nova Scotia in this 1959 ​photo​. For many years this was the scene of great ice racing which involved entrants from the Maritime Provinces as well as neighboring U.S. States.


​​The above scene at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia played out for many years as winter racing enthusiasts gathered to race on the ice course


​​An unidentified trotter shows great form on the track of ice. Cars parked in the background indicate a crowd was on hand for the show. ​


​The above photo of the famous hockey star Bobby Hull turned race driver was part of the 1979 Ice Races ​held on the Rideau Canal.


​A huge modern day display of ice racing was organized by Wm. Galvin in 1979 when a series of events were held on the Rideau Canal. It was a tremendous undertaking in a very unconventional setting. Through his skillful planning and the tremendous team he had in place, it was a huge success. Crowds in excess of 35,000 gathered in what at times was extreme cold, as low as -35 F. His project was well received and even caught the eye of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who attended the races accompanied by his young sons including our present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. ​

February 13, 2017 - 11:39 amThanks Garth for your kind

Thanks Garth for your kind words; they are much appreciated. The two pictures you mentioned I cannot take full credit for as they both came to me from Wm. Galvin, the man who orchestrated the famous ice racing gala in Ottawa back in 1979. Bill and I recently discussed the Renald Filion picture and he wonders if anyone in the reading audience would know the name of the horse our now Prime Minister was petting. Could be an interesting piece of trivia !

More about the Bobby Hull picture. Reprinted below is a note from Bill:

​I arranged to have Bobby Hull drive a 15-year-old trotter in a quarter mile dash against a relay of four hockey players on the Canal at the inaugural Ice Races in 1979. The old trotter, Prince Demon owned by Claire Smith, won easily, and Hull was presented with the trotter, which he raced at the Fair meetings in Manitoba where he had his cattle ranch. This is a good photo.​​
Wm. G

February 12, 2017 - 4:36 pmI remember my dad talking

Garth Gordon SAID...

I remember my dad talking about the ice races in Clayton, N.Y. I have coffee with my hockey buddies every Friday morning and I share your stories, Robert. They liked the one with Reynald Filion holding Justin Trudeau in his arms. I can't wait to get over there on Friday and show them the picture of Bobby Hull. They asked me who is that guy that writes these stories. I said he is a standardbred horse racing fan that likes to tell about the old days. And it is a lot of work to do those stories. We really appreciate it, Robert, we really do.

February 11, 2017 - 3:45 pmRemembering the horse Bobby

david byron SAID...

Remembering the horse Bobby Hull is driving (Prince Demon). Raced for Clarence Lockhart around the tracks in Ontario in the early 70's. Great photos Robert!

February 11, 2017 - 2:08 pmGreat Pictures Robert...

Great Pictures Robert... Amazing how much interest that there was in Ice Racing even when it was at Temps like -35
To get 3,000 people out to a comfortable track today takes big races like the N.A. Cup.
Keep up the good work!

February 11, 2017 - 11:26 amGreat photos and stories as

Charlie Reid SAID...

Great photos and stories as always. You bring back so many great memories.

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