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SC Rewind: A Living History Book

Published: January 9, 2021 11:31 am ET

Last Comment: January 14, 2021 12:47 pm ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith tells of his recent find; a real living, walking, talking history book. His piece revolves around a gentleman named Bill Lewis, a lifelong horseman from the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. Bill's over 80 years of involvement in the area's favourite sport and pastime has helped to make him the unofficial resident authority on harness racing.

With a young 15-year-old Bill Lewis (far left) leading the mare Grace Abbe, his father and driver George Lewis on the far right walk toward the finish line at Sydney, N.S. in this 1945 photograph. A group of family members and other local children lend a helping hand to make it to the finish line. An unfortunate accident resulting in a badly mangled sulky wheel eliminated the Lewis entry from the race but the aim was to finish the race, by whatever means it took.

Just recently I made an amazing discovery that really piqued my interest. I can't take too much credit for the "find" as this gentleman is not exactly a complete unknown. After all he's been around gathering up all this information for nearly 92 years. For the most part he has stored his "treasures" in a very safe and sensible place; his memory bank. Thanks to a lead from a local writer and senior instructor at Cape Breton University named Paul MacDougall, I have struck up a "friendship" with this amazing man. We have never met in person but we have enjoyed a few long distance phone calls. He was even kind enough to share some of his many old photographs taken around the local racetracks with me. I have to say that the one that appears at the top of today's story ranks right up there in my "favourites" category.

William Arthur Lewis, best known as "Bill", came by his life calling naturally; both as a horseman and a "historian". He was the son of George Lewis, a well known and successful horseman who spent a lifetime racing against the best the Maritime version of harness racing had to offer way back when. For many years after he quit training and driving horses, George was still involved as he drove the starting gate for well over 20 years. He's also related to many others in the region who have been involved in the sport. Bill has spent his time wisely, watching, enjoying and sharing his love of harness racing.

A very young Bill Lewis poses with his grandfather William George on the day he was about to make his first drive at the Sydney, N.S. track. He was wearing a driving outfit loaned to him by a local veteran horseman named Wes Vickers

A couple of years ago an article about Bill appeared in the Sydney Post Record written by the aforementioned Paul MacDougall who graciously allowed me to reprint a portion of his story.

"Bill Lewis told me he has been around horses and harness racing his entire life. The Lewis name, like Rankin, Ratchford, Sparling, Jabalee and a number of others, is synonymous with Cape Breton horse-owners and drivers. Bill is 90 years old; he looks 10 years younger at least. I've never met him before but I knew his pedigree. His father was George Lewis, his uncle was Al Lewis and Worrell Lewis was a cousin to George and Al. These names were famous among the maritime harness racing community decades ago.

"The sports pages of the Cape Breton Post often had them in the winner's circle and Earle Pemberton often wrote of their exploits in his sports paper, 'Punching with Pemberton,' second only to boxing. Buddy Lewis, a well-known boxer, was part of the same extended family and his son Buster was also a driver.

Back when Lewis’ family was big into racing, “everybody wanted to win.” According to Lewis, “everybody in New Waterford had a horse in the barn. New Waterford was full of old horses. People had a lot of fun with them.” Kids were always around the track, says Lewis. “They would follow my dad around. They loved being part of it all.”

The current day Bill Lewis is shown in his kitchen going over his collection of old racing photographs (Photo courtesy of Paul MacDougall)

Today at the age of nearly 92, Bill is still well and very much on the go including driving a car but "not as far away as I used to " he admits. He has been retired for many years after selling his auto dealership. He and his wife Wilda now live in an apartment and until just recently he was still attending his favourite races. "I just quit going to Northside mainly due to COVID; I was seeing too many people without masks so I gave it up for now."

Whenever Bill has the chance, he loves to visit with people who have an interest in harness racing. His memories go way back in time but he can rhyme off the names of horses and the owners and drivers that once populated the area with ease. He recalls when horses were shipped by railcar to many other spots in the Maritimes. He said "we used to spend a couple of days getting to where we were going, and the same to get back home. If it were happening now we could get there in 2 or 3 hours with all the modern roads we have today. But we wouldn't have near as much fun!

"My cousin Adam and I are about the only ones left from the old days."

Many of the Lewis clan gather at the Sydney track in 1946 as a young Bill Lewis prepares for his first lifetime drive behind the pacing mare Donna Dillon. With his Uncle Al acting as groom he had a successful launch to his driving career as he won his first ever race but it took a dead heat to get the job done. He recalls with pride that whenever he drove this mare he seldom lost a race.

As Bill looks back on his life's experiences he does so in a philosophical way. "People of my era didn't usually go to High School. We started to learn at an early age and we had to keep everything in our heads." Bill told me recently of an experience he had while telling a story and relating some facts from days gone by. A man who obviously didn't know too much about Bill was listening in and made a bold and straightforward inquiry. He said "just how do you get to know all these things?" Bill calmly replied, "I remember them because I was right here when and where they happened!"

George Lewis and his son Wayne (Bill's younger brother) are dressed in identical racing attire at the Sydney oval. Harness racing was a real family affair back then and they started them pretty young.


Three of the top performers of the 1940's appear at the Sydney track. From left is Allie McNeil holding Mart Harkaway 2:04 1/4, next is George Lewis with Pearl Bumpas 2:11 1/4 and on the right is Bill Lewis with the mare Grace Abbe 2:11. At the time all three were owned by P.J. Cadegan of Glace Bay, N.S. Their records made them among the fastest horses then in competition at the Sydney area tracks.

As I do a story like this I am reminded just how important the older members of our society really are. They are such a great repository of history and nostalgia that cannot be found elsewhere. Their memories and the way they describe them give value and meaning to our past. My thanks to Mr. Lewis for spending this time with me and sharing his stories and the pictures from his collection.

Quote For The Week: "Measure once, Cuss twice." - Sign in a woodworker's shop.

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify the gentleman pictured above? (Courtesy of Canadian Sportsman)

Who Else Is It?

Can you identify these smiling folks as they appear in the winner's circle? (Courtesy of Canadian Sportsman)

Be sure to stay tuned in during the coming week to see the correct answers.

January 14, 2021 - 12:47 pmThis week's photos were again

This week's photos were again correctly identified by our wide ranging panel of experts. The upper photo was Bill Fines taken around 1986 when he was promoted as an ORC Judge to the position of Supervisor. The lower photo was  Maritime based and taken at Truro, N.S. The winning horse was Kilkerran Fury 1:58.4, an outstanding performer from that era and that year's Horse of the Year. On the left is the owner Wathan Piers, next is Tammy McKay and driver Emmons McKay holding the trophy. Thanks to everybody.

January 9, 2021 - 8:45 pmWho is it? Why it's Bill

Tim Twaddle SAID...

Who is it? Why it's Bill Fines of course.

January 9, 2021 - 6:58 pmWho is it? Billy Fines, Bill

gord waples SAID...

Who is it? Billy Fines, Bill goes way back!

January 9, 2021 - 5:13 pmWalthan Piers, Tammy MacKay,

Kent Smith SAID...

Walthan Piers, Tammy MacKay, Emmons Mackay.

January 9, 2021 - 4:59 pmA great piece of Maritime

scott green SAID...

A great piece of Maritime history.

As a side note P.J. Cadegan of Glace Bay N.S., whose initials was listed above, his first name is Paddy who owned many other great horses including Lucky Chief who at one time held the track pacing record at Sydney in 2:07.1 taken on July 25, 1952.

January 9, 2021 - 4:14 pmGreat story, the bottom

scott green SAID...

Great story, the bottom picture is owner Wathan Piers holding the trophy with Emmons MacKay's daughter Tammy holding Kilkerran Fury, Emmons is driving.

January 9, 2021 - 3:46 pmWho is it ? Bill Fines. Who

David Darocy SAID...

Who is it ? Bill Fines.
Who else is it? Wathan Piers, Tammy Mackay and Edmond Mackay. A good chance the horse may be Maritime star Kilkerran Ingle.

January 9, 2021 - 2:22 pmfirst photo is William fines.

first photo is William fines. I can't identify the bottom photo.

January 9, 2021 - 12:39 pmWho else is it. Wathan Piers

Bert Clish SAID...

Who else is it.
Wathan Piers the owner with Tammy MacKay and Emmons MacKay the driver. Great story on the Cape Breton Lewis family. I remember Worrell Lewis driving years ago and more recent George Buster Lewis.
Happy New Year.

January 9, 2021 - 12:07 pmHi Robert, Thanks again for a

Hi Robert,
Thanks again for a fascinating look into the old days.
The bottom picture is Emmons MacKay, his daughter Tammy and ?
The horse may be Kilkerran Fury - a great colt, the best of his day.
The place would be Truro Raceway in the late 80's maybe, and I was probably at the races that day.

January 9, 2021 - 11:40 amTop photo a Fine looking

Gord Brown SAID...

Top photo a Fine looking Bill. Bottom - no idea.

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