SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1940s

Published: April 4, 2020 11:14 am EDT

In this week's edition of 'Rewind,' Robert Smith takes a lengthy look back to the decade of the 1940s in the monthly version of Years Ago. His piece includes several short stories and old photographs that depict the times. At that time the sport of harness racing was very popular but depended mainly on small venues all across the land. The era of the big raceways in the U.S. was just dawning as night time racing came into being.

1940 - Quebec Track Serves Two Sports

At one time LaFramboise Park located in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec was home to two very popular sports. The half-mile track that regularly hosted harness racing had an unusual feature about it not seen at too many facilities. In the infield was a baseball diamond that was home to the St. Hyacinthe Saints who at one time played in the Quebec Provincial League, first in 1940.

An aerial view of LaFramboise Park Racetrack in St. Hyacinthe, P.Q. where harness racing and baseball were both featured on the same grounds (Photo courtesy of Daniel Papillon)

1941 - Roosevelt Raceway In Second Year Of Operation

In the fall of 1941 Roosevelt Raceway, located at Westbury, N.Y. on Long Island, was in its second season of hosting harness racing. The facility, which had originally been used as an automobile racing track, had been converted to harness action and held its first meeting under the lights in 1940, the first place to do so on a nightly basis. The track was opened on Sept. 2, 1940 to a crowd of just 4,584 who bet a meagre $40,742, not quite up to what the management had hoped for. Gradually the interest grew as did the crowds. By 1941 the popularity was increasing and a number of Canadian horsemen were involved. Unfortunately the effects of WWII soon halted action for a few years, first with early post times and then everything came to a close until after the war ended.

Among the early competitors as reported in The Canadian Sportsman edition dated Sept. 1, 1941 were a couple of Ontario stables. Horses owned by Dr. Ferguson of Chatham, Ont. and Wes Litt of Stratford were in-the-money finishers for driver Harold Wellwood. Also at the Westbury oval was Floyd Milton of New Hamburg, Ont. with a small stable of quality horses.

Starter Steve Philips is shown in his new white starting gate introduced at Roosevelt Raceway.


An early year view of the Roosevelt track. In 1946 the mobile starting gate was introduced by Steve Philips of Xenia, Ohio. This new device and its eventual widespread use was said to have saved the sport of harness racing from a certain demise. If you recognize anyone in the audience please send it in.

1944 - Laurel Hanover 1:59 3/4 To Stand In Central Ontario

The fast record pacer Laurel Hanover will stand for the 1944 season at the hamlet of Freeman, Ont. near Burlington. Owned by E.R. Macklin of Burlington, the horse will be a resident of the farm of Martyn Heslop. He will also be used in the practice of Dr. C.H. Heslop to transport the Doctor of veterinary medicine on his rounds. This horse, who is now 12 years old, was a successful racehorse on the U.S. circuit and took his extremely fast record at age four while racing in the stable of noted reinsman Will Crozier. He was a winner of the Fox Stake as a two-year-old.

The above advertisement appeared on the pages of The Canadian Sportsman in 1943 for the coming season. It is interesting to note the service fee and the monthly pasture rate. The names of both Mr. Macklin and Dr. Heslop are closely associated with the earlier years of harness racing in Canada.

1945 - Dufferin Park Stages Summer Meeting - 75 Years Ago

While Dufferin Park in metropolitan Toronto was known for its famous winter race gatherings it also staged summer meetings almost every year, usually a few days in duration. In the 1940's Dufferin management was successful in securing several editions of the annual Futurities sponsored by the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society better known as The C.S.H.S. The winner of a futurity was generally acknowledged as the top colt of that age and gait for that year.

Two new owners enjoy a visit to the winner's circle at Dufferin Park during a meeting held in July 1945. Shown in the winner's circle is the two-year-old Dillon Mc sired pacing filly Maxabess and driver Alfred Moore of Sarnia. The young miss had just recorded her first lifetime start and win for a pair of relatively new owners. Her winning time for the mile was 2:22 3/4, a rather far cry from today's clockings. It is a bit hard to imagine how slow they went back then. Standing at the horse's head is Carl Smith (my father) and in the background on the left holding the winner's trophy is Russell Miller of Dutton, Ont. who in later years developed many fine performers.

1948 - Levi Harner And Family Feted At Buffalo Raceway

Levi Harner, a longtime kingpin at the Batavia and Buffalo tracks, was honoured at a special gathering hosted by Buffalo management to recognize him as the meeting's leading driver. Harner, who was well known and equally respected by all in the sport, was a fierce competitor on the track but a gentleman to all. He was a great friend to many Canadian horse people and was eager to assist anyone in need.

After the fifth race, Harner, who wound up as the leading driver, was called onto the track along with his wife and two children to be honoured. The honourary judges William O. Gurney and Pat Hodgson presented a bond each to both of Levi Harner's children and a silver bowl to Mrs. Harner. Mrs. Dunningan, wife of track owner James Dunnigan, also presented Mrs. Harner with a beautiful corsage.

A rule forbidding the presentation of an award to a driver by the U.S.T.A. was substituted by kind words on his behalf by Ralph Hubbel, famous announcer from Buffalo. After the presentation Levi Harner gave a few words thanking the people for everything and stated that he was always trying his best to please the people who go along with him in a race -- ie., those who bet on him. (Text from Harness Horse magazine)

From left: Ralph Hubbell, M.C.; Levi Harner; son Eldon Harner; Mrs. Harner; judge Pat Hodgson presenting a bowl; daughter Miss Gwen Harner. (Harness Horse photo)

While very young in this photo both the Harner children spent their entire lives involved in the sport. Son Eldon was a lifelong horseman while his sister Gwen married the great driver Wm. "Buddy" Gilmour.

Quote For The Week: "No act of human kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted."

Who Is It?

Can you put a name on this fellow? If you can then you know your "oldtimers" for sure. One clue is that he is connected to this week's Rewind.

Who Else Is It?

Can you identify this gentleman and if you can you can probably name the horse too?

Where is It?

This one didn't get on the recent list of tracks so I'll add it now with a clue. Don't think outside of Ontario.

As always the correct answers will appear during the coming week.



This week's pictures created some interesting answers and comments. In the top photo was Mr. E.R. Macklin owner of the horse Laurel Hanover he proudly displays. In the "Who Else Is It " picture is owner, trainer and driver Del MacTavish Sr. along with his top flight pacer Dares Direct. In the bottom photo which was a racing centre showing a field of horses approaching the start was taken many years ago at Milton Ont. during their annual races. I was told recently that the track is still there. Thanks to Mr. Foley and Mr. Van Allen for your kind words.

As usual a terrific storey about the past. Well done. NOW, here is something I am posting as a thought for all on this site. It is IMO about time that the nominators for the Hall of Fame include Robert Smith. His memories and stories that he posts here are exceptional and very well deserving of a nomination.

Hi Robert: Maybe with so much going on in the world that your stories could be expanded to 2 or 3 times per week. I really enjoy waiting every Sat. for your postings and feel many others are the same and more weekly articles might help pass the time in this scary new normal world.
Just a thought.

I received the following note yesterday from a special Rewind follower. I never print a personal email without permission and I did ask in this case but probably could have gotten away with it. In the past whenever the "Smith" name comes up I quickly disavow any kinship; this one I can't. I will insert a few bracketed explanations to the original text.

Re: 1945 item "Dufferin 75 Years Ago"
"Great picture, Dad was 40 there. Looks like he picked up a dog turd (cigar) off the track on his way to the winners circle. I remember Maxy (pictured horse Maxabess) real well as we rode her around when she was a broodmare and didn't she have quite a scar on her rump? (Yes she got kicked by a shod work horse in the pasture) Your first pic could be E R Macklin and Laurel Hanover. By the
looks of things I believe you thrill a lot of ole turd kickers around the horse
world. Keep up the good work cause there "ain't much else goin' on". Stay healthy both of ya! or all of us I guess I should say." From my brother, Larry Smith 
Note -  It's amazing how receiving an email can lift your spirits these days.

Had a strong feeling Robert that this week would be much tougher! Second photo just a shot, Clint Hodgins and Bye Bye Byrd, could the bottom photo be Orono?