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SC Rewind: Fun In The Valley

Published: August 8, 2020 9:28 am ET

Last Comment: August 14, 2020 7:01 am ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's edition of Rewind takes readers back many years to a time when harness racing in the Ottawa Valley was extremely popular. Many small towns up and down the Valley in both Quebec and Ontario hosted race days. The competition was keen, the rivalries were hard fought and for the most part the days ended with the old time saying A Good Time Was Had By All. A number of old newspaper clippings describing several race days are included.

Many communities throughout the Upper Ottawa Valley had horse races during their summer fairs....Shawville, Quyon, Ft. Coulonge, Chapeau, Beachburg, Pembroke, Renfrew, Arnprior, North Bay, Sturgeon Falls to name a few. People looked forward to these race days with great anticipation and many of the groups attached to the turf clubs or their equivalent provided food and perhaps even the odd refreshment to those attending. Many of the same people raced their horses year after year and undoubtedly a lot of the fans likewise kept coming back for more.

One small town venue that I was able to find out a bit about was located at the valley Town of Shawville, Quebec. In an attempt to get some background on the history and other aspects of the Shawville track I contacted Hector Clouthier, a man who knows just a wee bit about the area and many of its people. He gave me the following:

"There were two tracks in Shawville. Initially, there was a track at the fairgrounds in the centre of town and since the fairgrounds needed space for ball diamonds, a hockey arena, agriculture buildings, other ancillary buildings etc. the racetrack may have been a little short due to space constraints. The track had tight corners that precipitated some scary moments during a race but you learned to adapt. In later years the "horse guys" in Shawville got together and built a regulation half-mile track a few kilometres north of town. It was complete with a grandstand, their own barns etc. and I think they called themselves The Shawville Driving Club Farm. All of them were committed horse racing aficionados and their group was populated by many people who had and are still having a positive impact on harness horse racing in Canada and beyond. Hall of Famer Dr. Roly Armitage led the way along with great people like Brent Horner (father of Clay and Scott), Bill Horner, Sterling Hobbs, Bob Smith, Ebert Richardson and many others contributed to the racing fabric of Shawville."

Also among the Shawville people who organized the horse races was a gentleman named Barrie Murray. Mr. Murray was an owner, trainer, driver and at one time the President of the Shawville Driving Club Farm. He is the father of Tim Murray, who was the General Manager of the Buffalo Sabres a few years ago. Tim still owns Standardbred racehorses.

Throughout the long and winding past of harness racing, wherever it has been held, one of the main objectives has been to have fun and provide entertainment for its participants. In the early years, that aim was most often accomplished as many of the people who raced horses did so for the sheer enjoyment, probably realizing that their chances of making much or any money was pretty slim.

At one time the owners of Connaught Park, The Gormans, were involved with Shawville's annual race days. One example was in 1968 when the afternoon's program featured The Connaught Stake for three-year-olds, which carried a nice purse of $2,000. Personnel from the big track at Aylmer handled many of the duties such as announcing, judging and overseeing the races. Leslie Dale served as the starter. Dave Gorman was on hand to present the winning trophy and blanket which went that year to Ivan Farr of Carleton Place owner and driver of his three-year-old Liberty Farr. (See coverage below)

A newspaper write up from 1968

In a recent conversation, Connaught Publicity Director Dave Gorman recalled these race days with some vivid memories to share. "As for Shawville, 52 years ago, oh my goodness what memories! It was the best of could not possibly have more fun. The day drove my father crazy, knowing that most of his staff and horsemen were in Shawville for the afternoon, and that a few of them would return to Connaught for the evening races sober! Many did not. Racing was conducted under the auspices of the Shawville Driving Club, and I recall Brent Horner and Sterling Hobbs pretty much ran the show. The Filions would show up en masse, the CPMA (or its predecessor) was nowhere to be seen, the pari-mutuel operation was straight out of a bad movie, and nobody cared; we were just having fun. Impossible to do today but what a time it was back then. Similar days were held in South Mountain, Arnprior, Renfrew and Lachute, to name a few Ottawa Valley towns where harness racing had such a great following."

An excerpt from the local paper advertising the races for 1968 stated the following. "Georgette Plouffe, one of the few licenced female drivers in the world has been programmed to drive in four races and the Club suggests if you are making any side wagers that you do not overlook Georgette." Just how she fared I am not certain.

Shown above is a famous landmark in downtown Shawville, Que. where Blacksmith Harper Rennick served the needs of the community for many years. Harper did all types of metal forging as well as shoeing work horses, buggy horses, saddlebreds and of course many of the harness horses in the area including those of the aforementioned Barrie Murray Stable. Here he stands proudly in front of his shop.

This photo shows owner Dr. Roly Armitage and his horse Melina Hanover after her win at Shawville and the driver is Jim McCormick. Dr. Roly was born and raised in this part of the country and loved to race here and be a part of the fun. This vintage photo was taken from an old Shawville Equity newspaper.


A couple of clippings from yesteryear race days are shown above

In closing I will pass along a special little piece penned by Hector Clouthier Jr. as he summed up his recollections from the great race days held at the towns along the Upper Ottawa Valley. Hector proudly recalls racing in the same race at Shawville with his namesake Hector Sr., and beating him.

"Indeed, there were strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for 'the winner's circle'. From the parish priest who ran the betting windows at the horse races in Fort Coulonge to one of the real characters in the history of Ottawa Valley harness horse racing, Stead Craig, stopping his horse on the backstretch at the 'short track' in Shawville, hiding behind the midway rides that were in the infield of the track, thereby obstructing the view of the judges and waiting till the rest of the field came around for the final half and taking off in front of the field of oncoming horses, actually winning the race AND getting the winning blanket before anyone realized what had happened. To Bob O'Dwyer letting his brother (who at that time did not have a driver's licence) drive in the final heat at Shawville regular track to Ross 'Cowboy' Curran taking a shortcut through the ball field (while a ball game was in progress) at the Quyon Fair and winning the race.

"There are other stories that probably belong in the 'strange but true' archives and although some of the horsepeople might have been a little hot under the collar (especially if they didn't win) at some of the antics of their fellow competitors the beer was always cold after the races so that seemed to mollify everyone!"

There is no proof that the above establishment was involved in the race day but it would seem that they could have been of service. Just a guess.

Quote For The Week: "Live your life and forget your age."

Who Is It?

Who are these folks and can you name all or most of them? I think they kind of look like members of the same family.

Who Else Is It?

Can you identify this Canadian-born horseman who was accomplished enough to make the front cover of The Horseman & Fair World magazine in 1958? A couple of clues. He raced mainly in the U.S. after starting his career near his Southern Ontario birthplace and was among the early drivers to record sub-2:00 miles on American tracks. He was frequently used as a catch driver and often referred to by his popular nickname.

Make sure to stay tuned during the upcoming week to get the correct answers. They will appear in the comments section.

August 14, 2020 - 7:01 amThis week's pictures resulted

This week's pictures resulted in the following outcome: 

The top picture from 1967 was correctly identified by a couple of  readers and Bert Clish also added some interesting details . From left to right - (all last name is Daniels)  Gary, Edna, Jeff, Frank, Joanne and Scott. Joanne is Scott's wife and Jeffrey is their son. 
A special note to James Milne. So happy to hear that you were inspired to look up some items of historical significance. Galophone was raced by a wonderful gentleman named Robert Walker, the same name as a well known Canadian horseman but no relation. Thanks to all who added your personal memories of "Fun in the Valley."

The bottom  photo seems to have stumped our "experts". I am going to leave it as a "Carryover" and display it again next week with a clue or two included.   

August 12, 2020 - 9:44 pmWho else....Clint Hodgins

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Who else....Clint Hodgins

August 11, 2020 - 12:11 amThe Horseman photo could be

James Milne SAID...

The Horseman photo could be Ben White. He passed away in 1958 but this looks like an older picture. Even if I am wrong I had a lot of memories trying to look this one up. I came across a nice article about the Maybury family who raced Galophone who won $81,000, a yearly record for trotters. They also campaigned a mare Cadence who won 8 races on the Roosevelt-Yonkers circuit. She was by Rodney out of Gayety Day so Bruce and Glenna Clement's Cadenza was at least a half sister. Thanks for all the amazing information you dig up!

August 9, 2020 - 10:11 amNice to see a picture of the

Bert Clish SAID...

Nice to see a picture of the Daniels family. left to right is Gary, Edna, Jeff, Frank, Joanne and Scott. Joanne is Scott's wife and Jeffrey is their son. I was best man for Scott's wedding and he was best man for me the following year. Joanne and I were neighbors growing up and passed away a few years ago. Thank you for including Nova Scotians. Regards, Bert Clish

August 8, 2020 - 10:41 pmWhen I was younger, I went to

When I was younger, I went to the races at Shawville Fair, and at the Driving Club.
One year - Moon Magic and Noble Hartack - Dr. John Findley and Nelson White, respectively.
I wasn't present, the year Lost Sleep, perhaps John's all-time favourite, won a stake or a feature there.
My dad was there, and apparently a bit of a dust-up ensued among the followers of the entrants.
The Driving Club was a nice place to spend a Saturday afternoon.
We used to go to all the fall fairs, up and down the Valley, mostly to see the races.

August 8, 2020 - 9:20 pmThanks for your comment Cass,

Thanks for your comment Cass, always great to hear from you. As a point of clarification the newspaper clipping that included Hector Clouthier winning four heats was NOT from his input, that was MINE and I am sure he had no idea that I was going to include it. 

August 8, 2020 - 8:30 pmRobert, I was a young kid

Scott Horner SAID...

Robert, I was a young kid when your above occurred. I remember the Plouffes and Filions coming to Shawville and setting up their picnics early in the day. The race day was that, a happy picnic. Dr. John Findlay also was a regular and I recall Canny Choice raced in the 3 yr old stake. Hugh Proudfoot (former CTA President , like Roly Armitage) also was a member of the Shawville Driving Club. Engineers from the local iron ore mine designed the track. Roly Armitage lived in Shawville and was the village vet (population was at max 3500 with the Iron Ore Company of Canada and Consolidated Bathurst operating). The mine ran out of ore and the paper mill closed. Times change. The successful adapt.

August 8, 2020 - 5:56 pmThe who is it drivers are;

The who is it drivers are; Gary Daniels, his father Frank Daniels, and his brother Scott Daniels. Frank Daniels was the first driver in the Maritimes to win 1000 races!

August 8, 2020 - 10:47 amGREAT article by Robert and

GREAT article by Robert and Hec Jr. I attended many of the listed fairs while making our home in Pembroke.I can almost assure you that all the things mentioned, did happen and the Clouthier family attended them all!!! THANKS for the memories!! P.S. Hec must have done a lot of looking to find a fair that he won 4 races??

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