SC Rewind: Early Years At Old Woodbine

SC Rewind: Old Woodbine
Published: April 8, 2023 12:30 pm EDT

This week's edition of Rewind travels back to the year 1957 and recalls racing at Toronto's Old Woodbine track, the forerunner to Greenwood.  His piece remembers many of the people who were competing there and also recaps the track's headline event that year.  A couple of old pictures from the track's much earlier period in history  are shown today as well.  

In 1957, which is now over 65 years ago,  Ontario had just one track that offered pari-mutuel wagering as well as an extended meeting of more than a couple of days of racing. The province lagged well behind most U.S. tracks as well as Quebec.  That one place was what was then called Old Woodbine and also at times referred to as "The downtown track."  It was a rather stately and historic place and it had been in existence for a good part of two centuries by then, but had just started hosting harness racing for four years starting in 1954.   

Horses at Old Woodbine
A field of horses passes the huge Old Woodbine grandstand which was packed as was the case for many years.  (City of Toronto Archives) 

The 1957 season started on July 15 when Don Corbett won the first race of the afternoon with Minto Todd in 2:14.1. The D Trot attracted a field of eight starters and carried a purse of $400. The six-year-old mare was owned by Russell Bolender of Elmira and it was her only winning tally of the season. The meeting ended six weeks later on August 28 when Chief Attorney Can took the final of the day with owner Russ Beattie of Grand Valley in the sulky. This horse, unlike the opening day winner, piled up 20 victories in 30 starts that year. 

The Old Woodbine meeting was originally scheduled to end on August 24th as shown on the front of the program shown elsewhere,  but due to the success of the meeting it was extended by three days, much to the delight of racing fans in the Toronto area.  All existing records for harness racing in Ontario were shattered at that meeting. The trotters and pacers attracted a record attendance of 138,149 during the 39-day summer meeting. 
The Canadian winner-seekers pushed $4,919,680 through the windows during the session. In 1956, during a 36-day meet, 106,338 fans wagered $3,256,255. The average daily wagering during the July and August racing also reached a new record, $126,658, an average daily increase of $22,538 over the largest amount ever previously attained. 

Program from Old Woodbine
A vintage program from 1957. See also below. 


On Saturday August 17, 1957  Old Woodbine's then signature pacing event "The Canadian Cup" was contested over the three-quarter mile oval.  A field of the best free for all pacers that race secretary Courtney "Court" Smith  could muster faced starter Tom McDonnell.  When Hal O Matic was a late scratch the original field of six was reduced by one.  Three of the entrants were ship-ins from the Buffalo - Batavia circuit, including the scratched horse.   Captain Wright, the winner of that year's Canadian Pacing Derby —  which was still being raced at New Hamburg, Ont. — was also in the field for the Armstrong Bros. of Brampton.  

Above is Bud Gilmour in a photo taken a year or two after the race day described today.  He was only in his twenties but had already established himself as a top all-around horseman. 

A pre-race glance at the program showed a couple of pretty capable horses.  No. 2 Howard Rosecroft with co-owner Bud Gilmour in the sulky showed all wins on the program in his last six starts with 10 wins in 12 season's tries.  Next to him was No. 3,  Maynard Hanover from the powerful stable of T.J. Zornow of Pittsford, N.Y. with regular driver Levi Harner in the sulky.  Interestingly the drivers of these two horses were a father-in-law and son-in law-duo.  Bud Gilmour was married to the former Gwen Harner.  They were used to facing each other on the racetrack.  

The big race went as a two-heat affair.  In the first skirmish,  the fifth race,  Howard Rosecroft won in 2:02.1, a bit off the track record, under a heady drive by Bud. Seven-year-old veteran Ezra Deen was second with Maynard Hanover taking third.  When the horses came back out for the eighth race,  Howard Rosecroft was bet down to even money based on his earlier performance.  

In the final Gilmour grabbed the lead and was in command and again was a convincing winner, this time setting a new track record of 2:01.1 which was a new tab for Ontario. Howard Rosecroft was a pretty high class horse for the times.  He was co-owned,  trained and driven by Wm. D. "Buddy" Gilmour,  one of the brightest stars in the sport at the time.  Bud was only 25 but already had established himself as a top notch horseman.  He shared ownership of this horse with Sheridan Revington of Lucan, Ont.,  a well known cattle dealer.  The Revington name in succeeding generations has been often seen down through the years in various capacities. 

Later in that 1957 season Howard Rosecroft went to Lexington where he took a sub-2:00 mark with Bud Gilmour driving.  He raced two heats that day and was clocked in 1:59.1 in each one.  That afternoon 22 races were held, including time trials,  and the two miles logged by Howard Rosecroft were the fastest.  He won 15 races that year 

Sadly in 1962 a tragic fire at Batavia Downs claimed the life of several members of the Gilmour stable including Howard Rosecroft. The details of this sad event were covered in an earlier Rewind. 

Note - A close look at the program shows part owner as S. Bevington but I know that was incorrect.  I can remember seeing Mr. Revington numerous times at the races many years ago. 

1957 Canadian Cup Pace

Above is the field of the 1957 Canadian Cup Pace Eighth Renewal.  The overall purse of $9,170 may very well have been the highest ever offered to that point in history for Canadian competition.  Converted to today's dollars,  that would be the approximate equivalent of $97,000.  Previous winners of this annual race are also shown. 

Drivers standings at Old Woodbine, 1957

Above is a  list of leading drivers who were competing at Old Woodbine during the 1957 season. 
Question - I can remember virtually every driver from this era but I must admit that the name Dale Eastman does not come close to  ringing any bells. Can anyone recall him? After all, he had won seven races at this meeting.  

Historic Photographs 

King and Queen at Woodbine

In 1939 Royalty visited the Woodbine track to attend that year's King's Plate.  King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth are shown in a horse drawn carriage passing the grandstand.  (City of Toronto Archives) 

crowd at Old Woodbine

This scene from 1926 shows a rather large crowd assembled to watch thoroughbred racing at the Woodbine track (City of Toronto Archives).

Quote For The Week: " Blossom by blossom the spring begins." -  from Algernon Charles Swinburne 



The observance of Easter is a wonderful way to start a new season. Experiencing the rebirth of everything living is a miracle in itself. To see buds emerge from previously dormant trees and shrubs is inspirational. The warmth of the sun and the greening of the landscape gives new hope once again. The birth of farm animals is always a special occurrence. I love to drive across the countryside and see the spring planting; it brings back special memories. Hopefully that will be soon. 

Who Is It?

This week we have a trifecta of old driver photos. All three of these gents are associated with this 1950's era at Old Woodbine. 

Who Is It photo question

This fellow was stabled at Old Woodbine at this time.  Can you put a name on him?

Who Else Is It #1? 

Who Else Is It photo question

This man helped to get harness racing going at Old Woodbine and was followed by quite a few family members.  Who is he? 

Who Else Is It #2? 

Who Else Is It photo question

This gentleman was racing at Old Woodbine during the 1957 season.   Above is a picture taken in later years including the finish of a 1965 race at London.  Can you put a name on this interesting fellow from days gone by? Let us know "Who he is."



This week's pictures were all solved correctly by our "experts". They are a pretty tough group to fool.
Who Is It? was Jack Mehelenbacher Sr. the pride and joy of Nelles Corners, Ont. He combined a couple of interesting careers. He was a longtime N.H.L. referee and a lifelong horseman.
Who Else #1 was Duncan Campbell, the patriarch of the Campbell clan of Ailsa Craig, Ont.
Who Else #2 was Hughie McLean from Port Elgin, Ont.
I posed the question wondering if anyone knew who Dale Eastman was as his name appeared on the driver's list at Old Woodbine in 1957 . No one answered but I did find a reference to him racing at Vernon Downs in the 1950's. He listed his home as Orleans, Vermont.

Jack Mehlenbacher Sr. Raced at Buf/Bat., was also an OHL and NHL Ref. Jack Jr had a nice little horse by the name of Slap Shot. Sr would come down to watch him race once in a while.

number 1 Jack Mehlenbacher
2 Dunc campbell
3 Hugh McLean

Who is it?
Jack Mehlenbacher

Who is it #1?
Duncan "Dunc" Campbell ... John Campbell's grandfather

Who is it #2?
Hugh McLean... Ray McLean's dad

All based off reliable information

Who is it? Jack Mehlenbacker Sr
Who else is it ?
Who else is it 2? Hughie Mc Lean. He had one good arm and hand. He lost his other arm in a farm accident so he fashioned a hook on the other arm which he lost it so he could drive with it

Lorne Tolhurst
Duncan Campbell