The Heritage Corner, Springhill Record

Marc 26th, 2014

Opening of Victoria Park Back in 1897

Dec. 8, 1938 Springhill Record Merve Boss Recalls Opening of Victoria Park Back in 1897

     Last week, Merve Boss, that veteran horseman, promised us a story of the first horse race held in Victoria Driving Park and we bring you that story today.

     What surprises us the most is that Merve himself was but a slip of a boy at that time, but he must possess a rather remarkable memory to recall the events of that day and the names of the horses and men who took part.

     The official opening of Victoria Park on June 22, 1897, was a big day in Merve’s life.  He lived out on the farm then and his interest in horses grew as he watched Alex Stewart work out a dapple grey on the flat near Fred Austin’s, a horse that Stewart had secured in a trade with Willard Gilroy.  Merve waxes eloquent over the Dapple Grey, the prettiest and fastest pacer he had seen up to that time.  Willard Gilroy had purchased the colt from Fred Gilroy of Maccan, who by the way was the father of Mrs. J.E. Simpson of Springhill.

     Willard Gilroy was mighty fussy about the appearance of this colt, says Merve, and he bought new harnesses and a new buggy for him.  Alex Stewart was pretty proud of him too when he got him in a trade, and Alex used to steal eggs from his Aunt’s supply to feed to the colt. How that Aunt used to wonder where those eggs went, laughed Merve and Alex suggested that rats were running off with them.

     While he was fast Merve recalls that this colt ran only once and that at Black Lake on the ice, at which he came second as near as he remembers.  Stewart eventually traded the colt to Lyman Ryan and later Ryan traded the colt to someone in Londonderry.

The Opening Race – But getting back to the official opening of Victoria Park, Merve recalls that the speed shown by that dapple grey in workouts made him anxious to see the opening race which had been well advertised throughout the county. 

     Not only was June 22 the opening day of the racetrack but the Town was in gala attire celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee. With the Main Street gaily decorated with flags and bunting the school children marched to the park in the morning.  There were many floats which added color to the parade.  In the afternoon the children were allowed free entry into the park. 

No Fence – At that time, there was nothing but a wire fence around the park, and it was sometime later when the high board fence appeared. 

     There were only two races that day a Free-For-All and another race either the 2:50 or the 3-minute class.

The Free-For-All – In the free-for-all there were two entries, Minota, owned by J.R. Lamy of Amherst and driven by Lew Cox also of Amherst and Bessie Rampart, owned by Charles Day of Parrsboro who also drove him.  At that time Day was owner of the Grand Central Hotel of Parrsboro.  Minota won that race in three straight heats.  The time was 2.26.

     Of particular interest, Minota was the only entry that day to sport a bike.  Merve says he saw that same bike recently at Maccan where it is possession of Ora Hoegg and is in good shape.  That bike had wooden spokes, said Merve, not steel like you see today.

The 2.50 or 3 Minute Class – Entries in this race were Maude Blair, owned by D.A. Belliveau of Joggins; Motto, owned by Solomon Keiver of Springhill and driven by J.T. Leadbetter; Sultana Belle owned and driven by T.C. Glennie of Oxford.

     Leadbetter drove Motto to victory in the first heat that day.  He again led the others to the wire in the second heat, but was set back for repeatedly breaking and that heat was given to Maude Blair. 

     When the horses came on the track for the third heat Merve recalls that some gentleman requested Mr. Belliveau who was driving Maude Blair, to permit Lew Cox to drive in his place.  Mr. Belliveau agreed and Cox drove Maude Blair to victory in the next two heats to win the race.  Boy, says Merve, was Belliveau ever happy.  He was the proudest man in the country as he took the horse back to Joggins.  Do you know, added Merve, it was M.R. Anderson who persuaded Belliveau to bring his horse to the meet that day.

     Merve recalled that this was the first race in which J.T. Leadbetter ever drove Motto.  He discovered that working Motto out on the track sored his heels and after that he would just jog him before a race, keeping his heels sound for the main race.

     What happened to these horses, we asked, as Merve began to run down.  Well, he said, Minota died in Amherst; Sultana died at Glennie’s in Oxford; Bessie Rampart was last heard of in Halifax and the last he heard of Maude Blair, Richard Foster had him in town.  He had lost all track of Motto.

Tug Of War – There was a big tug of war that day between the north and west slope boys and what a pull it was.  Merve recalled that Alex Gillis pulled that day.  Out in the field dancing was in full swing with Dan Gillis doing the prompting and Bill Matheson was one of the violinists. Taking tickets that day was George Oulton and Alex McPherson.

     And so, dear readers, Merve presents for your approval his version of the first horse racing at Victoria Driving Park.