SC Rewind: Memories Of Blue Bonnets
Published: April 15, 2017 9:32 am ET
Last Comment: April 17, 2017 9:39 am ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments
In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls some of the great personalities and happenings at the old Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal. This once famous landmark track was Canada's foremost spot for harness racing for many decades along with Richelieu Park located just 35 miles away.
A great view of the Blue Bonnets track from 1969 (Hoof Beats)
Much of today's story is told by a myriad of great old photographs that capture the times and the people that made up the history of Blue Bonnets which dates as far back as 1872. Blue Bonnets, located on Decarie Boulevard in what later became Montreal West, served as a racing centre for both thoroughbred and standardbred horses for a total of 137 years prior to its final closure in 2009. At one time or another, all of the great horses and their owners visited here. For several generations it was a favourite destination of racing fans and like most tracks in Quebec, Sunday afternoons were the ones many remember. The following photographs and brief accounts are but a short glimpse of recollections associated with the long and interesting past days at Blue Bonnets. If those of you in the reading audience have memories and stories associated with this great place please feel free to share them. My story just barely touches the surface.
1957: Three leading drivers at Blue Bonnets Raceway. The curtain was drawn on the harness racing season in Montreal Monday night, November 11th, with the closing of a very successful Fall meeting at Blue Bonnets Raceway and substantial cheques were received by the three leading drivers. The presentation was made by Racing Secretary Lucien Bombardier (left) and Controller Rolland Desjardins. The happy winners were (from left to right) Marc Gingras with 27 victories, Percy Robillard with 22 and Harold McKinley with 18. For Marc Gingras, twenty-seven year old French-Canadian born in St. Jerome. Quebec, this championship was the first of a promising career. (Harness Horse)
In a rare show of appreciation for people not often credited for their role in racing two veteran trackmen were honoured for their work in having the racecourse in such remarkable shape. A donation was made by The United Horsemen of Canada Assoc. to these two gentlemen. From left: Laurent Bourgon, U.H.C. President presents a cheque to Ernest Tobin while Treasurer Sebastien Brisson on the right makes an identical donation to Alf Bergeron. Francois Lebeouf, a leading driver appears in the centre. (Harness Horse)
Mr. J.L. Levesque, long-time owner and operator of the Blue Bonnets track proudly appears in the lower level of the recently modernized grandstand. A few horses can be seen going through their morning training routine. (Hoof Beats)
One of the most accomplished and well-liked participants of this era was a gentleman named Benoit Cote. He was loved by the fans and held in high esteem by his fellow horsemen. In the above photo from May 18, 1958 he is shown in the winner's circle following a victory by Meadow Bower in the Mount Royal Pace. In the photo from left to right are owners Mr. and Mrs. Roland Marquis and BB Race Secretary Lucien Bombardier (Harness Horse)
In this 1958 photo the winning horse in the Alouette Pace is Ladys Lad driven by Bill Harvey. The winners are obscured by second place finisher Jay Creed (7) handled by the track's most famous reinsman Keith Waples. Mighty Lee was third. (Harness Horse)
In 1958 as a three-year-old, a young trotting colt named Homestead Dan put on quite a show for the fans at BB and also Richelieu Park. The son of Tim Hanover - Fannie was bred and owned by Osler Burrison of Rice Lake. Here he is being shown off by his trainer and driver Jack Gordon (right) to an admiring Bill Habkirk, both long-time participants at BB. In 1958, Homestead Dan won 14 of 28 starts and also had three seconds and seven thirds. His season's mark of 2:06h was amazing for the times (Harness Horse)
Many young drivers started their careers at BB as grooms and later graduated to the driving ranks. The above photo shows a happy memory for a then very young Denis Larochelle as he is joined by friends in the winner's circle. The winning horse was Jeff Protector, owned by his driver who hailed from Sorel, Quebec. Take note of the hand written information on the photo.
In 1959 Blue Bonnets underwent a huge renovation and rebuilding program. Upon its completion a special ribbon cutting ceremony was held. From left Lucien Lachappele; Hugh Proudfoot, C.T.A. Pres.; Hon. Earl Rowe; Roland Desjardins; J. Louis Levesque, President; Eugene Lajoie; Paul Danserau; Gerard Favreau and Andre Charon (Harness Horse)
Part of the 1959 rebuilding program included a new clubhouse shown above under construction (Harness Horse)
By the mid 1950's the biggest names in racing came to compete at BB. In June of 1957 the track record was lowered by a full second when the famous Billy Haughton brought Duane Hanover for a big race and stopped the clock in 2:02 erasing the existing mark held by Bay State Pat.
Duane Hanover appears in the Blue Bonnets winner's circle with a host of guests. From left: Lucien Bombardier; Haughton; co-owners Mr. and Mrs. Karl; Eugene Lajoie of Blue Bonnets; Rene Chartrand and co-owner Francois Seremba. Take note of the gigantic Sunday afternoon crowd on hand to witness this record-setting event. (Harness Horse)
Scores of fine drivers populated the ranks of BB regulars who competed year after year. One such person was Duncan MacTavish who followed in his father's footsteps as a top reinsman. Here he is shown with one of his stable members, Oliver Twist.
Here is a short excerpt from a piece in the Nov 30, 1955 Harness Horse:
Albert Boucher scored the best driving average at the Blue Bonnets meeting, although both Keith Waples and Percy Robillard appeared in the winner's circle at the Canadian oval on more occasions. The regular Montreal season ended October 20. The United Horsemen Association voted Real Bardier as the most gentlemanly driver during the meeting.
In the background of many BB photos is the picturesque setting of Mount Royal and the famous L'Oratoire Saint-Joseph, a famous shrine. As evidenced in this photo the track was nestled in the midst of a very large and busy metropolitan area known as Snowdon.
While not part of the Blue Bonnets track Ruby Foo's, a well-known restaurant just across the street was often visited by track patrons wishing quality dining and a friendly gathering spot.
My special thanks to Mr. Don Daniels who provided a number of today's great old photographs. His archival work is much appreciated.
I would like to wish a very Happy Easter to everyone in the reading audience. This is a wonderful time of the year when spring arrives and the landscape renews itself once again. It is also foaling time and down through the years many horses have been registered with Easter references in their names. A brief list would include Easter Biscuit, Easter Charm, Easter Dawn, Easter Dream, Easter Gal, Easter Haven, Easter Rose, Easter Sunday Bars and one of my favorites Miss Easter Van Who.