SC Rewind: A Day At The Races, Old Style

SC Rewind: A Day At The Races
Published: March 16, 2024 11:29 am EDT

For this week's Rewind Robert Smith takes readers back in time as he recreates a day at the races;  the way it used to be.  A number of great old photographs help to tell the story of what it was like to attend an afternoon of harness racing at a small town track, way back when.   

The roots of harness racing are deeply embedded in race days at the small-town tracks across the land.  Many towns had race tracks within their geographical limits.  They were most often a focal point and used for many purposes.  A number of years ago I wrote about this very subject and recalled the track in the small town where I grew up.  There was never a race day in my lifetime,  but I heard about them from some oldtimers in the community.  

Today the path of the track remains but only to those like me who remember where it once was. It is just a wide path in spots and part of the entrance in another. Each time I attend the fair I can visualize in my mind how it once was, and even the passage of time has not erased the memory of riding around it in a cutter with my father's trainer. (Does anyone remember a man named Benny Larocque from Carman, Manitoba?)

Slowly but surely over the years and decades, our once quaint and useful tracks have disappeared one by one. Many have been consumed by urban sprawl, replaced by subdivisions or commercial ventures. Thankfully some have been converted into making the town park larger. The old wooden grandstands that were part of the facilities were replaced in the earlier years but eventually fell prey to neglect, decline and decay. Some were even consumed by fire and never replaced. A precious few remain as do a few saved photographs and countless old memories.


The old photographs shown below are intended to take readers back to what things looked like back in the day when races were held at a small-town track.  These photos were taken at the old Rodney, Ont. track also referred to at times as Aldborough Downs.  The date of the race day captured in the accompanying pictures was May 23, 1966, so almost 58 years ago.  

Rodney grandstand

A packed grandstand was most often  the sign of a good day of racing.  Here is a view of the Rodney grandstand as racing fans of all ages take in the action.  

Whitesell starting gate at Rodney

The starting gate with starter Art Whitesell perched in the back leads a field onto the track.  Art was an automobile dealer in Tillsonburg and was among the very first people to build and operate a mobile starting gate.  His first public appearance with his new gate was in 1947 at Grand Valley, Ont. 

Betting at Rodney

Fans gather at the betting booth to place their wagers.  One feature of this type of "book betting" the odds maker wrote the horses names on a chalkboard.  After a careful inspection I was able to determine the horses in the upcoming event. 

The horses along with their order of finish were  Noral Chief - scratch, September Morn C (4-5), Good Product (5-6), Teddy Hal (2-4), Candy Bonn (6-1), Hippodrome (1-2), Carol Knight (3-3). 

Candy Bonn winning at Rodney

Here is the finish of one of the four races showing Candy Bonn cruising to victory.   

Race Day Summary 

Note: Each race carried a purse of $250, $125 each heat, so fans got to see eight races in total.  

Race 1 - In the opening heat the winner was a three-year-old filly Janice M Grattan owned by Stewart McDonald of Chatham and driven by Al Schweitzer. In the second heat the winner was Nancy Ann Grattan in rein to co-owner Frank Reid of Windsor who shared ownership with Richard Carter. 

Race 2 - In the opening heat Miss Maryl Ann was first home for owners Jack Lumley and Ted Thomas of Petrolia. The  driver was Arnold "Bucky" Armstrong also of Petrolia.  In the second heat Gunner Creed was the victor for driver and owner Ellis Dell of Becher, Ont.

Race 3 - Three-year-old Easy Sara gave Ellis Dell another win in the opener. He co-owned this filly with his son Elwin.  In the second, 11-year-old Davie Boy was the winner for veteran horseman Billy Nevels of Appin, owned by Reg Clark of Glencoe. 

Race 4 - Once again two winners, with Hippodrome in the opener with Ken Bogart in the bike for owner Nelson Srigley of Wheatley.  In the second it was Candy Bonn owned by Otis and Ross Parr of London in the quickest time of the afternoon, 2:10.2. 

Note: All of the photographs appearing in today's Rewind are courtesy of the Elgin County Archives. Many thanks.

Quote For The Week: With St. Patrick's Day being observed on March 17th,  this one is dedicated to the Irish.  It has been said that only a true Irishman answers a question with another question.  Example: When asked "How old are you?" an Irishman answers with "How old are you?" Top O' The Mornin To Ya and Happy St. Patrick's Day To All!

Where Is It?

Where Is It photo question

Can you identify the location of this once popular small-town Ontario track that held racing for a lot of years but not for many years now.  Two clues;  it is not Rodney and it is located east of Toronto.  Good luck. 

Who Is It??

Who Is It photo question

Help needed on this one.  This nice clear photo came to me as a possible for the weekly Quiz but unfortunately without any names.  It is supposed to have originated at a Maritime track, location not known.  Perhaps someone in the audience can shine some light on it.  



This week's picture Quiz once again failed to stump the experts. The Where Is It ? photo was correctly identified as the once popular track located in Orono, Ont.  FYI - A portion of a once popular TV series "Wind At My Back" was filmed in Orono .
The Who is It ? photo drew just one answer and I am going to judge it to be correct. According to Melanie Dilts, the driver was Aubrey Wood, the horse, More Than Fair, with owner John Davies of St. John N.B. accompanied by "Beansie" Barton. The picture was apparently taken at the great old track Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire, a spot often visited by Canadians. It was in existence for over 100 years.

Lots of great memories from my childhood, Robert.
Hours of fun watching races at Arnprior, my home town, but also Renfrew, Perth, Richmond, Shawville, South Mountain
The Arnprior track is still there I think but the rest may be gone.
I think my Dad's horse, Catcha Sparktogo still holds the track trotting record from back in the 90's
Some of the horsemen I saw at Arnprior Fair: Lorne Tolhurst, Harold Wellwood, Hec Clouthier Jr. , Ivan Farr, John Shelton, Harry Zeron, Jim Zeron, Kerry Millman, Ken Carmichael, Bunny Elliott, Dave Burke, Edmund Filion, and of course, my dear friend Dr. John Findley
Another fun part of the fair were the roadster races - one or two old trotters hooked to a buggy for a half mile race after the show class
Roadster men: Burritt Mann, Stewart Ferguson, Arnold Dobson and others.

Belleville race track

Belleville race track

The last picture is John Davies from Saint John new Brunswick, with his trotting mare More Then Fair, Aubrey woods is the driver with beeansy Barton. The picture is taken in Rockingham Park.

Those were the days. I learned to chart and fill in Eligibility cards at the Cookstown Fall Fair

First picture has to be Orono Racetrack. Was there every Friday night .

Orono with Jerry Hughes on the outside Bill ByronandKeithWest. I remember Benny quite well, he hung around with a tall gentleman that also drove. Have a feeling his name was Frank something but could be wrong!

Orono Ontario, nice little track.

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