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A Grand Celebration

The View

On July, 1, 1767, exactly 100 years to the day before Canadian Confederation, the first horse racing meet was held in this country. The event was for a purse of $40 and won by a mare named Modesty. The race, which took place on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, ushered in a rich tradition of horse racing in the province and across Canada. Our sport grew and prospered long before concepts like ice hockey or American football had even been conceived.

Two-hundred and forty five years removed from that afternoon, and here we are. The Quebec Jockey Club is scrambling for a new facility to race in after being informed that the Hippodrome de Quebec will permanently be unavailable for racing. Quebec City, the place where it all started, appears to no longer be available to us. As racing gets set aside in the name of “progress” and “development,” I’m left wondering about a larger point.

One of the greatest gifts we have in the Canadian horse racing industry is our history. We pre-date almost any sporting tradition this nation has. We carry with us a tremendous commitment to fair competition and sportsmanship, yet for some incomprehensible reason, we rarely talk about it and virtually never celebrate it.

Yes, we have a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame – one we should better support and build to be one of our strongest vehicles. But, our history is so much more than those individuals we honour each year at the Hall of Fame banquet. It is living and breathing. It survives in the ancestors of our great horses and our storied horsepeople. It exists in places like the Plains of Abraham, on our roads, and on our frozen rivers and streams where horses once raced. It also resides, regrettably, on the sites of current day shopping malls and subdivisions, where the sport we love once thrived. In the City of Toronto alone, there are several locations where wildly successful racetracks once stood. In most cases, not even a plaque has been erected to remember them by. Even in the City’s archival library, raised eyebrows greet questions about the tracks that once dotted Canada’s biggest metropolis.

How often does the Minister of Heritage hear about our remarkable anniversaries, and the Kings and Queens that once travelled to Canada for the express purpose of watching horses race? Who is digging up our past and presenting it to the public?

A firm commitment to celebrating our history is not just an honourable chore that we perform to pay tribute to those before us. It is a necessary part of moving into the future.

I have marked July 1, 2017, in my calendar and I invite you to do the same. I plan to be on the Plains of Abraham with thousands of others, watching a horse race, as we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and the 250th anniversary of the sport in this country.

We’d better get planning!

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

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