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The Return To Ohsweken

Published: September 11, 2017 3:16 pm ET

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A banner crowd swelled the Ohsweken Six Nations fairgrounds on a beautiful fall day this past weekend (Saturday, September 9) to welcome the return of harness racing following a 15-year hiatus at the 150-year-old site.

The event celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday, and also the 250th year of horse racing in Canada.

Standardbreds race past fans at the Ohsweken Six Nations fairgrounds (Image courtesy Bill Galvin)

“It was a solid community effort” said Albert Green, a retired iron worker and Ohsweken native that grew up on the Six Nations Reserve. He is acknowledged as the mover and shaker that organized the entire program with the assistance of a small group of volunteers in just four months’ time. The return of the races had the full support and backing of Band Council Chief Ava Hill and Six Nations Agricultural Society Fair Board President Mark Hill.

“The attendance at the fair had been falling and we felt the only way to bring back the crowds was to bring back harness racing,” said Band Chief Ava Hill, “and it did.”

The starting gate speeds away at the Ohsweken Six Nations fairgrounds (Image courtesy Bill Galvin)

There were four races carded for the day. Announcer Gary Guy brought excitement to the crowd with his stirring Roger Huston-like calls from his tiny, lofty perch just large enough to accommodate him and judge Jeff Minler.

Mohawk Racetrack’s regular marshal, Joanne Colville, led the horses in the post parade and the horses went postward behind one of Flamboro Downs’ old starting gates that Albert Green had purchased. Green had modified the starting gate to accommodate for the 40-foot width of the homestretch of the half-mile track.

The existing 2:02 track record was shattered when Eddie Green steered six-year-old Canadian Edition from Keith Cassells’ Smiths Falls, Ont. barn to a sizzling 1:58.4 victory in the third race.

The purse for each race was $2,000 and each starter received a handsome cooler. Total pari-mutuel wagering on the day’s card of racing was $1,984.

The driver challenge, sponsored by the Ava Hill family, was won by Eddie Green. The fourth race, a memorial event which honoured the late Fred Hill, was captured by Scott Coulter.

Owhweken native Fred Hill – a full-blooded Mohawk Indian and father of present Band Chief Ava Hill – campaigned a public stable during the ‘golden days’ of Ontario harness racing in the ‘70s and ‘80s on the now-defunct Golden Horseshoe Circuit (Mohawk, Garden City and Greenwood). He gained national prominence when he swept the entire eight-race card at the Beamsvile Fair in 1961.

Hill is not the only well known Ohsweken horseman. Harry Smith also hails from the Six Nations Reserve. Smith was star Six Nations lacrosse player and is better known as ‘Jay Silverheels’ in his role of ‘Tonto’ in the popular Lone Ranger television series of yesteryear.

Fans look on as a field of Standardbreds heads into the first turn at the Ohsweken Six Nations fairgrounds on Saturday, September 9, 2017 (Image courtesy Bill Galvin)

“I am pleased with today’s attendance and also with the huge support of the numerous sponsors,” Albert Green said. “We plan to make a number of improvements and increase the purses and the number of races for next year’s program and also include a drivers’ challenge.”

To view Saturday's harness racing results, click on the following link: Saturday Results - Ohsweken.

(Bill Galvin)

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