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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: September 8, 2018 11:03 am ET

Last Comment: September 12, 2018 8:33 am ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Today the monthly edition of 'Years Ago' features a medley of names, faces and other trivia from the decade of the 1950s. While this may seem like ancient history to many, it was not so long ago to many readers of 'Rewind.'

1953 - Action At Dufferin Park - 65 Years Ago

By 1953 Dufferin Park was in its waning years as it closed forever just two years later in 1955 but it was still a popular spot. For some reason not a lot of pictures exist that were taken there. This photo is a good one and is unusual in that it captures the entire field of 11 horses competing in that day's feature. As a further bonus all horses and drivers are identified. A closer look shows that the drivers were not wearing silks as was frequently the custom at Dufferin due to the often muddy and messy conditions. This race carried a purse of $1,500 with a mile time of 2:15 1/5.

For many years harness racing action at Dufferin Park provided a unique show, unlike any other spot on the globe. With sometimes unbelievable track and weather conditions it was often "a survival of the fittest." The toughest of horsemen seemed to love it and the hardiest of fans showed up in abundance. It will forever hold a singular spot in Canadian harness racing history.

Thomas Hat, driven by Wilmer Hillock and owned by Alex Parsons of London, is shown winning the first heat of the Open Pace on December 5, 1953. Band Leader (5) and Jimmy Larente nose out Huron Express (Wm. Harvey) for the place spot followed by Barbara Abbedale (12, Joe Hodgins). Next is Mac Bingen (2, Frenchy Lebeouf), Ruth Chips (4, Wilfy Hughes), Hi Handy at the rail by himself (3, Bud Gilmour), Williamsburg on the outside (10, Johnny Zeron ), Crisp Day (8, Cliff Chapman ), Mickey Morris (1, Percy Robillard ) and last is Millie Grattan (6, Malcolm Weaver). Photo from Harness Horse courtesy of Don Daniels.

1954 - Jiggs Goes 7 For 10 at Clinton

Levi "Jiggs" McFadden

June 16, 1954 - A great day of racing was held at the Clinton track and it could have easily been declared "Jiggs McFadden Day". The Dresden based horseman won no less than seven of the ten heats. He scored double victories behind June Lee Direct, owned by Glen Tiffin; Now, owned by Hales & Pinkney, and closed out the day with a double with Vi Hy owned by Al Leverington of St. Thomas. Also midway through the program he was 1-2 behind Carter Chips, also the property of Mr. Leverington which gave him the best standing in the Class 22 Pace. It was not surprising that he also turned in the afternoon's fastest mile with Vi Hy as he turned back the veteran mare Ruth Chips, stopping the watches in 2:10 flat. In all, purses totalling $1.900 were up for grabs on this day.

Jiggs McFadden was for many years the absolute top catch driver in Southwestern Ontario and he seldom sat out a race. He either brought a horse with him or drove for others, eager to gain an advantage over the competition. I have been told by a reliable source that his reward for winning a race even by the most generous of owners, was seldom more than $10.00.

1954 - Excellent Racing At Virden, Manitoba

Eileen Hal, a three-year-old filly, appears in the Virden winner's circle for owner Dr. G.B. Isman and trainer driver Norman Temple. The young lass turned in a fine mile clocked in 2:14.4 giving her driver four wins on the afternoon.

June 24, 1954 - The annual race day at this small town located in south-west Manitoba attracted a large crowd from a wide area of both U.S. and Canada. Virden is located at approximately the halfway point between Winnipeg and Regina, thus making it within range of several racing stables and many fans. Today's races drew a total of 40 entrants which were split into six races of two heats each with purses for each event set at $300. The driving star of the day was Norman Temple, a man regarded as one of the finest horsemen in Western Canada. Temple, who trains and races a large contingent of horses for Dr. G.B. Isman of Wolseley, Sask., won a total of four heats during the afternoon. Young Jack Kopas was a two-time visitor to the winner's circle with Maxine Armstrong for owner Oscar Van Doorne in the 20 Class and also with Doctor Guy Baker owned by C.A. Cooney of Prince Albert, Sask. Other winning teamsters included Ray Dryden, Hank Drader and Ernie Gagnon.

It is interesting to note that two sires, Doctor Baker and Brady Hanover, sired the winners of nine of the 12 heats on this day. The featured Free For All was won in straight heats by Hal Baker, owned by Dr. Isman and piloted by the aforementioned Norman Temple.

Virden is a very old racing centre with records of race days dating back to 1897, making it one of the earliest in Western Canada.

1957 - Montreal Season Closes

Nov. 11, 1957 - The rather long racing season at the two large Montreal tracks has ended for this year. It began way back on April 20th at Richelieu Park and concluded today with a ten-race card at Blue Bonnets. Racing fans in this city, numbered among the most avid and knowledgeable anywhere, were treated to a lot of great competition all season long.

On closing day several races were co-featured, one a trotting event the others for pacers. Each went for a purse of $850 while the remaining seven races carried a purse of $650.

In the trotting event the winner was Miss Ezra owned by J.C. Cameron of Smith Falls and driven by trainer Jimmy Hammond who in later years worked for the Armstrong Farm.

On the second to last day a longer distance event was carded at 1-1/2 miles which drew a field of eight with a purse of $1,150. The winner was Irish Gander driven by Frank Church in 3:25 scoring this horse's only victory of the 1957 season.

The three top drivers at Blue Bonnets were honoured by the track management at the conclusion of the day's racing and each received an award. The presentation was made by Racing Secretary Lucien Bombardier (left) and Controller Rolland Desjardins. The happy winners were (from left to right) Marc Gingras with 27 victories, Percy Robillard with 22 and Harold McKinley with 18. For Marc Gingras, twenty-seven year old French-Canadian born in St. Jerome, Quebec, this championship was the first of a promising career. (Harness Horse)

1958 - 60 Years Ago - Annual Race Day Held At Grasshopper Flats

A panoramic view of the track at Grasshopper Flats

June 14, 1958 - An enthusiastic crowd was on hand to enjoy the races and other activities at this quaint little spot located in Hamilton Township north of Cobourg, Ont. Members of a couple of local church groups were on the premises serving up their usual good dining treats. Reportedly several tables of Bingo were in play while others watched the races. Hosts for the day were the Hie and Gordon families, joint owners of the facility.

A total of 32 horses were entered in the five events, each going two heats for purses totalling $480. The first two races were for green horses and provided a nice way to start newcomers. In the opener Port Hope's Boy (Ken Webb) was the first heat winner with Lady Flicka Grattan taking the second for Basil Samons. In the second tilt, the winner in straight heats was Spencer Van with 17-year-old Ken Webb in the bike for his third victory of the afternoon. This horse was owned by his father Fred Webb, a local horse enthusiast who operated a barber shop in nearby Port Hope. At the age of five this son of Glen Hanover was finally able to make it to the winner's circle. This turned out to be his only trips to the winner's circle that year and in nine starts he banked $89. I wonder what a haircut cost back then?

In the third event the heats were split between Dusty Mac Grattan, driven by Graydon Sheldon for owner Fred Sproule of Lindsay, and Lynn's Girl taking the second for owner-driver Ivan Thackeray of Plainville, a nearby community. Race four was won in straight heats by Red Gun, owned by Albert Defosse of Trenton and driven by Graydon Sheldon, thus giving him a driving triple. In the featured F.F.A. Trot & Pace Richard Lee Can was the winner of the opener for owner Jack Reid's Meadowview Farm of Orono, driven by Jack Gordon. In the second skirmish Pocahontas Boy recorded the day's fastest mile of 2:11 for L Blight and owner John Phillips of Oshawa.

Who Is It?


Can you correctly identify this gentleman who was a very popular driver in days gone by?

Stay tuned for the answer.

September 12, 2018 - 8:33 amThe timing on this week's

The timing on this week's picture worked out pretty well. All respondents came up with the correct answer of Fred Hill. I had the pleasure of meeting Fred and his son Larry many years ago at the Norfolk County Fair in Simcoe, and had a visit with both of them; two fine gentlemen. Thanks to John Hill for your frequent comments, they are appreciated very much.

I wish to add my personal congratulations to everyone involved in staging the race day at Ohsweken this past Saturday. It would be nice if a few more of these days spring up elsewhere.

September 10, 2018 - 7:36 amAt Hamilton Township

Garth Gordon SAID...

At Hamilton Township Racetrack “Grasshopper Flats” didn’t call it a fair. It was called a 'field day' and it happened the second Saturday in June every year from 1951 to 1960. They raced horses there every year, and one year I remember Keith and Murray Waples showed up as well as Bill Habkirk. They had lots going on. Pony rides, merry go round, fish pond and a G.M.C. Dealer had cars and trucks on display. Entertainment up in the grandstand. And a hardball game was played in the infield. The day before the field day one year I think it was 1952 or 1953 my dad, Jack Gordon, said to me 'let’s go over and check the infield of the Ball diamond'. Someone had just cut the grass and he wanted to make sure they did a good job. As we were checking things over he said to me what is that laying over there on the grass? I ran over and said it was a dollar bill and I picked it up and took a few more steps and found another one. My dad said the fellow that cut the grass must of had a hole in his pocket. At the time I was 8 or 9 years old and I believed him. Now “many many” years later I am not so sure the person that cut the grass had a hole in his pocket. I don’t know how much a haircut cost at Fred Webb’s barbershop? I should, I was there a lot. But I do know two dollars went a long way at a fair. Taffy apple was 10 cents a bag of taffy (six pieces) 25 cents and most rides were 15 to 25 cents. Great memories Robert, thank you. The mystery photo is definitely Fred Hill. I remember reading that he won 8 races one day. Maybe Ohsweken Fair?

September 9, 2018 - 7:40 amThat is my dad Fred Hill. Had

John Hill SAID...

That is my dad Fred Hill. Had a race in his honour today at Ohsweken fair.

September 8, 2018 - 2:20 pmFor sure Fred Hill. Great

Paul moynagh SAID...

For sure Fred Hill. Great supporter of fall fair racing as was his son Larry. I was fortunate enough to be present at Beamsville the day he won all 8 races.

September 8, 2018 - 1:04 pmHill, Fred

Hill, Fred

September 8, 2018 - 12:44 pmWith some assistance from my

David Darocy SAID...

With some assistance from my good friend Ed Harrison l will guess that the gentleman in the photo is Mr. Fred Hill.

September 8, 2018 - 12:36 pmFreddie Hill.

Gord Brown SAID...

Freddie Hill.

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