SC Rewind: Remembering Belleville, Pt. 2

SC Rewind: Remembering Belleville
Published: June 22, 2024 10:38 am EDT

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith offers the second and concluding story of the long and colourful history of Exhibition Park, located in Belleville, Ont.  His piece includes a number of old and current pictures of the racing facility which was closed a number of years ago. 

After countless years of harness racing at Belleville's Exhibition Park the end of a very long existence became a reality.  In the later years of operation under the guidance of track manager Jack McDonnell who was at the helm from the 1980's until 2006, the track did quite well. However, in 2006, the decision was made to close the annual racing program.  The last night of racing was held on Sept. 29, 2006. To mark the occasion an informal party was held in the L Barn after the races.  

For a very long time the Belleville track was an important spot on the "B" Circuit list of tracks and served -- as did many small town tracks -- as a training ground for young horses and often young horsepeople as well.  The fans in the area supported the racing programs which were held throughout the summer months.  Like many small tracks it served as a meeting place and an outing for those who enjoyed harness racing without having to travel a long distance. 

In 1984 The Standardbred magazine Christmas issue carried its usual year end review of small town track activities and the following is an edited version of that summary.  

"The Belleville half-mile track underwent some costly renovations during 1984. A new lighting system that cost $110,000 and a new hub rail was installed.  Both improvements drew rave reviews from fans and horsemen alike. Guy Larush and Rejean Boily the kingpins of Belleville's driving colony were at it again in 1984.  Larush led all drivers in wins with 32 and Boily was tops in the percentage race.  A new track record was established when Armbro Chuck paced in 1:59.4 on July 2 in an OSS event. This young horse from the stable of Garth Gordon was catch driven by Harold Stead in this event for owner Bruno Comegna and Robert Fox.  May Darlen, a local favourite, set a new record for aged mares when Guy Larush piloted her to a winning effort of 2:02.4 in mid July." 

The following is a summary of the current situation at the former racetrack at Exhibition Park courtesy of Todd Ferguson. Todd was among the last horsemen to be stabled at the Belleville track. 

"The old backstretch stabling was removed approximately 15 years ago," noted Ferguson. "The only stabling left is 'The L Barn' along Sidney St. but it is locked up and has not been used for years. The paddock still stands and is used for winter storage of boats, etc. The grandstand is still standing. The fire department uses it for storage and training purposes. The track still remains but is off limits to horses. There have been motorcycle races there during  some years.

"The City of Belleville is in the process of building a new fairgrounds out of town at the corner of Hwy 37 and Black Diamond Road. There will be no racetrack at the new site.  It is supposed to be ready for the fall fair in 2025. The fair still operates at the QER site until the new property is ready. When the transition takes place, a new YMCA is proposed to be built on the former QER property along with a mix of commercial and residential properties."

The 2006 demise of the Belleville track marked yet another in a long succession of small town racetrack closures. Many lasted for parts of three centuries. As so often happens when the old tracks close they are not replaced and soon fade into the pages of history.  Over the years countless tracks have followed this path. 

The following photos show the current condition of the racetrack area after many years of decline and neglect. 


 A view from the grandstand looking at Belleville's famous square first turn as it was known. 


A view of the "L" Barn as it now exists. Todd Ferguson and his father John along with Brian and Darlene Anderson were the last to have stalls there. Everyone had to vacate by Dec. 31, 2006. 


The old grandstand still remains as a reminder of days and nights gone by when large crowds gathered for race nights. 


A view from the paddock looking down what used to be backstretch shedrow.


A view from the backstretch 

Closing Night Party Photo 

Todd, Debbie and John Ferguson

Resident trainer Todd Ferguson, his wife Debbie and father John Ferguson.

Closing Note: I would like to thank Todd Ferguson for his assistance with photographs, old and current, and for his help in providing information relating to the old Exhibition Park location.  

Quote For The Week: "Walk slow, talk slow, think FAST."  Theory of Bruce Bochy, Texas Rangers manager. 

Who Is It? 

Who Is It photo question

Can you identify this young gentleman who once held a track record at the Belleville track? 

Who Else Is It? 

Who Else Is It photo question

Can you identify these fellows who were on hand when Belleville held their last race program in 2006?



This week's pictures both drew correct answers; again no problem for our panel of experts. The Who Is It? photo was Harold Stead, the fellow who set the then track record of 1:59.4 while driving Armbro Chuck at Belleville in 1985. 
 In the Who Else Is It? photo was Ian McCardle, Jerry Robinson and Brian Anderson at the final night party.
Thanks to everyone who sends in their answers and thus makes this part of Rewind interesting.

Thanks Robert for your inclusion of our small tracks. It was home to Boily, LaRush, Sammons, Mulhollands, Skene, Carr, Demille, Zebedee for years and the stepping stones for many including Doug and Gord Brown, Brian Bellamy, Tony Kerwood, Paul MacDonell, Ted McDonald and the list goes on. We have lost a great breeding ground for for drivers and trainers to learn and move on to the next stage with our hometown tracks. Saying that what a time we had. I am sure most would agree to go back in time and and relive!!

First picture Harold Stead
Second picture Ian McCardle Jerry Robinson and Brian Anderson

Funny what one remembers;
I believe I was at the last race card at Belleville - the only time I attended
I believe my good friend John Findley sold his good mare Marion Kirke after an OSS event there.
John Grant bought her I think - Fred Gillis raced her, along with Hornby Tora, also owned by Mr. Grant.
They dominated the division that year, racing in different divisions.
Tragically, Marion Kirke died delivering her first foal.

Harold Stead. Ian McCardle, Jerry Robinson, Bryan Anderson. Oh those were the days. Thanks Todd!

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