In the latest edition of 'Rewind,' Robert Smith retraces and recalls the 1956 opening of the New Woodbine Racetrack just north of Metropolitan Toronto. While the facility was designed and built for thoroughbred racing, it would in later years serve as host to harness racing for almost a quarter century. The opening of this track signaled the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in Canadian horse racing which embraced both Standardbred and thoroughbred interests. As usual a number of old photographs help to tell the story.
On the afternoon of June 12, 1956 a giant step was taken in the building of the history of Canadian horse racing. A huge crowd was on hand to attend the opening day at North America's newest and perhaps finest racing plants as the track known as "New Woodbine" held its first ever program. Located on a 780-acre tract of land a bit north of the City of Toronto in Etobicoke Township, it was built for a whopping $13,000,000 *(see below) and included every feature and amenity that anyone could imagine at that time. It was truly the showplace of Canadian sport and reportedly the largest racetrack in the world at the time of its opening.
* The building cost converted to 2020 would equal approx. $126,680,000.
As far back as 1947 when E.P. Taylor was appointed as the director of the Ontario Jockey Club, he began to plan for the day when horse racing in Canada would rise to a level equal to or above its counterparts around the globe. After travelling to Hollywood Park in its Golden Era, a plan began to take shape in his head. Following years of planning, research and consulting, his "dream" came into fruition on this day. Although this was a layout designed for thoroughbreds, it began to pave the way for both breeds and in time more new tracks followed. Many years later in 1994 the trotters and pacers began to race here and remained as part of the annual racing calendar until 2018 when all harness activity switched to the renamed Woodbine at Mohawk Park.
At the 1953 annual meeting of the O.J.C. held in February of that year it was announced that the yet to be built track would be called NEW WOODBINE. The intention was to capture and perpetuate the heritage and history of the existing Old Woodbine track. A Globe and Mail article stated "The present race course has an international reputation. Being the oldest track in Canada the decision to retain the name will preserve the continuity of the east-end track with its colorful historic background."
Grading of the track and other infrastructure installations near completion in this 1956 photo prior to opening day
Just prior to opening day, on June 9, 1956 famed sportswriter Jim Hunt wrote an extensive column in the Toronto Star covering the many attributes of the new plant. I have reprinted a portion of it below to better describe this memorable happening from close to 65 years ago.
Photos From New Woodbine Racetrack
An aerial view of the New Woodbine track taken in 1957 the year after it opened
The following is a brief list of features of the new track not mentioned elsewhere:
Private quarters for Ontario Jockey Club directors with a private kitchen were located in the upper reaches of the new track
Opening day race program cost 15 cents
There were 250 mutuel windows reportedly capable of handling a $5 million play "if and when it ever came"
There was an on-premises bank for depositing winnings or more likely cashing a cheque
A 22-bed Hospital was on site
A flower shop "where a horseplayer can send his ladylove flowers" was included
Stands were heated in early spring and late fall
Two dining rooms and a cafeteria available for fans
Free parking for 25,000 cars
Both elevators and escalators carried patrons to the seating and viewing area
120 buses were available from several locations in Toronto and had their own parking lot at the track
The homestretch was 975 feet compared to 1,320 feet at Old Woodbine
Thought For The Week: I can recall an incident from many years ago that has never left my memory bank. During the summer months when off school I worked for a Company that did agricultural crop spraying. The job involved visiting many farms each day and consequently chatting with many farmers. I found many of them wise in their ways as well as wise in their years. Along the route was a man named Leo Dingle. He said that he felt sorry for people who lived in cooped-up territory, where they literally had little room to breathe. From where we were standing he pointed toward a long lane way that led to the back of his farm. He said that often when something bothered him deeply that he took a long walk by himself down the lane. He finished the story by saying said that nearly always when he returned that he felt much better about his plight.
Who Is It?
Can you identify this driver? Looks like the horse was listening to the photographer and looking straight at the camera.
Who Else Is It?
Can you identify this gentleman?
Who Else #2
Can you name the driver and maybe even the horse?