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SC Rewind: Paving The Way

Published: January 30, 2016 9:11 am ET

Last Comment: January 30, 2016 9:26 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls an interesting happening from 1970 involving a young driver's first win and more importantly the landmark decision that accompanied the event.

Sandra Clouthier reaches the wire a decisive winner behind Northwood Irene in this 1970 race at Connaught Park. Finishing second is future Hall of Fame driver Dr. John Findley. Sandra, a member of a very noted racing family made this her only career drive and thus retired with a perfect winning percentage. The events that led up to her licence being granted are a central part of this Rewind story.

On the afternoon of June 17, 1970, a then very young Sandra Clouthier -- at the tender age of 19 -- achieved her dream. From the time she was barely in grade school, she wanted to drive harness horses; not just in training miles, but in actual races. On this day she was making her first ever public appearance in the sulky. It was at Connaught Park in Aylmer, Quebec and her mount was a filly named Northwood Irene, bred, owned and nurtured from birth by her family.

Her racing debut could not have gone better. With friends and family galore in attendance, Sandra drove like someone who had been doing it for years, not a first timer. At the end of the mile she was in full command, "with plenty of gas in the tank" as the oft-used racing saying goes. The photo that accompanies today's Rewind tells the story better than any further words possibly could.

Despite the almost fairy tale happening this day, the struggle Sandra had to endure to gain her licence was something she had not planned on.

It seems that at this time, the late 1960's, Sandra had quite a time with her request to become a licenced driver. It had little to do with her capabilities or qualifications but more to do with so-called policy in force at the time. She apparently was simply told that the existing policy was that the Canadian Trotting Association, the governing body of the sport, was no longer issuing driver's licences to female applicants...Period!

Needless to say in the years previous to this, many females had been granted the right to drive in races although even earlier times were not without their struggles. While there were many females who were adept at handling the reins, one lady seems to stand above the rest in the fight for equality. Mildred Williams, who passed away a few years ago, did much of the early groundwork but apparently it had to be revisited. Mildred, along with others such as Bobbe Huntress and Retta Herrington, had shown that women drivers are every bit as capable as their male counterparts.

This ruling in 1969 raised the ire of a number of people involved in the sport, none the least of whom was Sandra's father Hector Clouthier, Sr. Mr. Clouthier made some preliminary inquiries and soon started to explore a path to seeking an explanation. The subject became a matter of public inquiry and even reached the floor of The House Of Commons. The Senior Clouthier also contacted the noted Sport's Lawyer and hugely popular public figure of the day, Alan Eagleson. "The Eagle" was asked to examine the constitution of the C.T.A., to see if it did exclude the licencing of female drivers.

His finding, of course, was that indeed females had every right to be considered for a driver's licence. Based on the negative publicity and general uproar this whole incident caused, the C.T.A. soon relaxed its stance and Miss Clouthier was granted a licence. One person who was vocal about the matter was Mr. Hugh Proudfoot (pictured at right), a man well versed in both harness racing and political circles. This gentleman from Fort Coulonge, Quebec was a former M.P. and had also served at one time as the president of the C.T.A. He also knew the Clouthier family very well.

I have recovered a few excerpts from a June 10, 1969 article in The Ottawa Journal that covered this matter in some detail. Mr. Proudfoot stated "We can't hand out driver's licences like confetti, and women like men applying must have the ability. Women can't go racing around tracks just because they think it might be an exciting lark!"

"I've seen this young lady in action and she's already as good as many veteran drivers."

Sandra soon gained her provisional licence, based at least in part on the recommendation of Mr. Proudfoot.

At the time Sandra was quoted as saying the C.T.A. had rejected her application for a harness racing licence because of "discrimination, plain and simple against women. I was told there was no way that a woman would be granted a licence. I feel that I have the ability to pass the tests, but because I'm a woman I'm automatically banned."

Sandra had her career plans well laid out, years ahead. The following Canadian Press article that was published in October of 1963 clearly described the path that a then 13-year-old Sandra Clouthier was pursuing.

Pembroke, Ont. (CP) - Sandra Clouthier at the age of 13 is already well on the way to her ambition to become a trainer and driver of trotting horses, and later a veterinarian.

Her father Hector Clouthier as owner of The Northwood Stable, has a private track where he trains a string of more than 100 horses. When she is 16, Sandra hopes to be a trainer and driver for her own standardbreds and she expects to be a qualified Vet when she is 24. Sandra will be eligible for a driver's licence when she is 16.

She was jogging the horses a few years ago. "Now, I work them their first mile too," she said. "It's really fun."

A large group of well wishers join first time driver Sandra Clouthier in the Connaught Park winner's circle to celebrate her first career victory. The contingent made up of mainly family members from left are Peter Smith (her uncle), Northwood Irene, John Burns, Sandra, Molly Clouthier (Mom), Leanne Clouthier (sister), Teresa Giesebrecht, Mario Reitano and Willy Clouthier (brother).

In a recent conversation with Sandra's brother Hector, he recalled the importance of this event and said "The win at Connaught Park was Sandra's only drive so she retired undefeated but the women drivers who came after Sandra probably owe their opportunity to get a licence to Sandra's challenge vis-a-vis the CTA ban on women drivers. Her decision to object to that discriminatory ruling can be regarded as a ground-breaking moment in harness racing. It was eventually going to happen but Sandra's cause celebre expedited the licencing of women drivers. The fact that over 45 years later Sandra is still training horses demonstrates her life long commitment to the sport of harness racing!"

Hec, in an amusing aside, also mentioned that the win that day by Northwood Irene was also her one and only lifetime victory. Here is how he put it:

"After Sandra decided to end her driving career as undefeated, I drove Northwood Irene numerous times and never came close to winning....ha ha. I tried to convince Sandra to drive her again but she demurred knowing that my driving style had probably compromised their (both Irene and Sandra's) chance of victory ever again...LOL...She was correct in that assumption."

Currently Sandra prefers working with young horses, developing their early talent and then turning them over to other highly qualified people. She now enjoys winter training in Florida and certainly has shown her ability at turning out some top individuals. Just last season one of her pupils, Elegant Serenity was one of the season's most successful performers for owner Doug Millard. They have every hope that she along with several others will again perform well in 2016. Sandra's current stable has 12 youngsters.

Our sport has been through many peaks and valleys; it has seen good and bad days. The way forward has not always been a clear and easy path. Thanks to the efforts of those like Sandra who worked so diligently to have her rights respected, she helped to pave the road to the future.

​Despite a driving career that spanned just over two minutes, Sandra's appearance that day has had a long and lasting effect. ​

January 30, 2016 - 9:26 pmGreat article Robert. Very

Great article Robert. Very enjoyable. I always knew that Sandra Clouthier was a better driver than Hec Jr. But he's got better hats. I knew Hec Sr. from my days with Ritchie Bros Auctioneers. What a great guy he was...
Keep up the good work.

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