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SC Rewind: Remembering The Sportsman

Published: February 27, 2021 10:27 am ET

Last Comment: March 4, 2021 11:04 am ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith talks a bit about the beloved old publication, The Canadian Sportsman. It was a much loved and revered harness racing journal that graced our sport for parts of three centuries. It is no longer with us but is still fondly remembered by those who read it regularly and depended on it religiously.

When the last issue of The Canadian Sportsman was published back in late 2013, all of harness racing lost a very old friend. The venerable "Sportsman" (people frequently left out Canadian) as it was always called, had survived longer than any other published work in Canadian history. In an exhaustive search done at the time, someone may have found that a publication associated with the United Church of Canada could have been in existence just about as long. My vote goes to the Sportsman; it makes for a better story! 143 Years is a LONG TIME.

The Canadian Sportsman was started way back in 1870 by a gentleman named E. King Dodds who remained as editor for 40 years. When the paper first started it included news from the world of harness racing but that was not its exclusive coverage. It also featured Thoroughbred racing, hunting, fishing and curling among others. It would evolve into the premier Standardbred magazine, "the Bible of the sulky world" is how it was described when Dodds finally entered the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Early Years

Above is a copy of a front page header from 1941, almost 80 years ago. At this time the subscription rates were displayed on the front page. The single copy price was 10 cents, six months was $1.50 and $2.50 covered a full year.

For many years and in fact decades, the Sportsman saw very little change either in format or content. The paper was frequently produced as an eight-page publication, all in black and white and displaying the same masthead for countless years. On rare occasions a photograph appeared but very infrequently. The content was pretty much the same depending on the season. During the summer and fall, the pages were loaded with race results and advertisements for upcoming race days. In the off season reports of new foals and training news were the staples along with stallion ads and horses for sale. Feature stories about great horses and notable horsemen appeared only rarely. Of course obituaries were always included.

Letters mainly from dedicated readers were often reprinted, many of them accompanied annual subscription payments. Life was slower back then and less controversial it seems. The management of the paper seldom expressed an opinion or even entered into controversial topics, preferring to take a neutral stance it seems from reading old issues. Many old issues did not even list an editor or a business address.

A sampling of "Letters To The Editor" from a 1943 issue

The "Chappy" Era

Around 1959 a change in ownership also launched a new era in the long history of the Sportsman. Clifford Chapman Jr., the son of a prominent Canadian harness racing personality and a long-time proponent of the sport himself, purchased the racing journal. With no publishing experience whatsoever, "Chappy" as he was affectionately known, went almost blindly into the new venture.

Armed with much ambition and hope for the future, but little in the way of guidance or assistance, he persevered. He started out as a staff member and after a year on the job was offered an ultimatum one Friday afternoon by the current paper's owners. He could either buy the business or in polite terms seek employment elsewhere. Understandably downtrodden at the choices he decided to pack up and head for home which was still in Toronto. A short detour to the home of Art Whitesell (of starting gate fame) who had suggested him for the job in the first place for the purpose of saying goodbye brought about a change of heart. Art suggested he buy the enterprise and give it a try. He did and it worked, in fact for many years.

When the Sportsman celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1995, Chappy recalled some of his early trials and tribulations in the paper's anniversary edition. While the stories were amusing in retrospect, the times he experienced had to be difficult. His love for the sport and the people who were involved in it persuaded him to persevere. In time the Canadian Sportsman became synonymous with Chappy and was often referred to as "Chappy's Paper" perhaps oftener than by its actual name.

Two men who were memorable owners of The Canadian Sportsman. On the left is Cliff "Chappy" Chapman Sr. and on the right Bruce Johnston

In 1976 another change in ownership propelled the Sportsman into its greatest era and one that would see it rise to prominence in the publishing world. A gentleman by the name of Bruce Johnston, a practicing lawyer (and son of a country Doctor) from Lucknow, Ont., took over ownership of the Sportsman which by now had a history that dated back well over 100 years.

Gary Foerster, long associated with the Canadian Sportsman, donned a number of hats throughout his over 35 years and served the publication very well. At the time of its closing in 2013 he was President.

Around 1977 another man who would have a profound effect on the growth of the Sportsman and its now related business activities arrived on the scene. Gary Foerster, a seasoned newspaper editor from Hanover, Ont., joined the growing team. From this time period the once tiny operation sometimes handled by a very few people, grew to a sizable enterprise. By the time the final issue had rolled off the press in 2013 Gary had spent an incredible 36 years at the beloved Sportsman office.

Both Bruce and Gary enjoyed not only the business but also the fellowship that accompanied the ownership and management of the paper. Their enthusiasm was reflected in the paper as it grew in size and stature within the world of harness racing. In their leisure time they also dabbled in horse ownership and experienced first hand the joy of winning and certainly on occasion the agony of defeat.

As most people reading this will know, Bruce Johnston died suddenly and very unexpectedly in May of 1993 while on the golf course with friends. His passing at the age of just 59 shocked his family and everyone who knew him and certainly everybody in the world of harness racing. I can only imagine how difficult this was for everyone involved. Sadly he was gone but those who remained were able to carry on with Gary Foerster taking over. In 2016 "B J" as he was often called was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in the Communicators section.

During the years of ownership by Bruce Johnston the column "Short Turns" was a regular feature at the back page of each issue. It was fanciful in nature and dealt with fictitious characters who became regular subjects.

The Sportsman was originally published in Toronto but by 1912 had moved to Grimsby, Ont. The publication would make several other moves including locations at Woodstock, Tillsonburg and Straffordville. Many modern day readers and subscribers associate it being in the general area of Tillsonburg.

I have mentioned only a few people who helped to make the paper what it was throughout the years. I will attempt to compile a very small list of others, knowing that I will miss many. Unlike someone like the aforementioned "Chappy" who was born into the sport, David Briggs -- a young man who admitted that when he started in 1995 "I didn't know a horse from a hydrangea" -- certainly made an impact as he rose to the position of editor during his 19-year tenure. I am going to add in the names of Joel Falkenham, Claus Andersen, Dave Landry, Lauren Lee, Deanne Penny, Tracey Morse, Wilma Van Vaerenbergh, all names that I copied from the final issue.

I think that the readers and followers of the Sportsman were more than just subscribers. Anyone who had read the paper for a long time felt a certain bond with it, kind of like a family feeling. Many harness racing families had read it through several generations and periods in time. As children followed parents into careers in the sport, they relied on the trusty old paper as a reliable source of news and communication. Back issues were often stored away, sometimes almost too special and precious to be discarded. Thankfully I have a precious few.

On December 19, 2013 the final issue of The Canadian Sportsman titled "Farewell Edition" sadly became a part of Canadian harness racing history.

Quote For The Week: "When this virus thing is over I still want some people to stay away from me."

Who Is It?

Can you identify the person shown above who appeared in an issue of the Sportsman taken in the 1980's? (Gerald Millar photo)

Who Else Is It?

Can you identify the two fellows in this 1980's photo that was shown in the Sportsman? (Craig Bogden photo)

March 4, 2021 - 11:04 amThis week's pictures were

This week's pictures were rather easily identified. The people were correctly named but the horses shown while not part of the quiz were not.
The answers were as follows:
1 - Bill Wellwood scoring a track record setting mile at Flamboro in 1989 driving Defrocked in 1:59.
2 - Driver Randy Kerr with newly appointed Windsor Raceway CEO John Ferguson following a victory behind Cordon Cordon in the "John B Ferguson Cup". The 1:54.2 winning time equaled the track record for aged pacers at the border oval.
Thanks for joining in.

February 28, 2021 - 5:11 pmNot wishing to be picayune,

Not wishing to be picayune, but...there may be a paper as old as the Sportsman, but it wasn't from the United Church, which has only existed since 1925. Such a publication was probably from the Presbyterian or Methodist churches, most of which became part of the United Church in 1925.
I loved the Sportsman and have many special back copies - too many actually!
Mark McLennan, continuing Presbyterian

February 27, 2021 - 2:51 pmWho is it Bill Wellwood and

Jamie Wilson SAID...

Who is it Bill Wellwood and maybe Surge Hanover.
Who else, right, John Ferguson

February 27, 2021 - 1:29 pmThe first photo is Bill

John Yake SAID...

The first photo is Bill Wellwood.
The second is Randy Kerr and John Ferguson!

February 27, 2021 - 12:04 pmthe first picture is Bill

kent benson SAID...

the first picture is Bill Wellwood and the second picture is Randy Kerr with John Ferguson the hockey player

February 27, 2021 - 11:07 amI think: Bill Wellwood and

I think:
Bill Wellwood and Armbro Marshall
Randy Kerr and John Ferguson - F Troop the horse?

February 27, 2021 - 10:39 amUnfortunately Robert all have

Gord Brown SAID...

Unfortunately Robert all have passed. Late great Woody and possibly Armbro Fame. Randy Kerr and ice heavyweight and kitten off the track Fergie!

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