Thorncliffe’s horsey past

[attach]5564[/attach]Two small streets just off of Thorncliffe Park Drive offer a glimpse into the neighbourhood’s past.

If the names Milepost Place and Grandstand Place aren’t enough of a hint, don’t be discouraged. According to the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, few residents know 60 years ago the densely populated community used to be a horse racing track.

From 1917 to 1952 the Thorncliffe Park Raceway was home to both thoroughbred and standard bred races. The very first Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of the prestigious Canadian Triple Crown, was held there. Over the years, the track also played host to the Clarendon Cup and the My Dear Stakes, both of which are still run today.

Currently, Woodbine Racetrack is the only place where Torontonians can be off to the races, but according to Tom Cosgrove, former director of racing at Woodbine Entertainment, when Thorncliffe first opened three other tracks existed in the city, Woodbine, Dufferin and Long Branch.

“Racing was huge,” he said. “Racing and baseball and boxing were the premier sports of the 1920s.”

In fact, there are some who believe the popularity of the Thorncliffe racetrack was the impetus needed to spark construction of the Leaside Bridge, which was completed in 1927.

“It was very much the old style of track,” Cosgrove said. “Thorncliffe was part of what they called the Leaky-Roof Circuit.

“It kind of gives a negative connotation when in fact the track didn’t have that at all. It was a track that was well run.”

Before it became a racetrack, Thorncliffe Park was a farm owned by Robert T. Davies, who raced horses himself and kept a stable on the site. In 1917, Mathilda Bryan and James O’Hara, a couple from Baltimore, Maryland, purchased the land. By 1920 they had built a raceway that could seat as many as 4,000 spectators and housed up to 610 horses.

Some of the well-known horses to have raced at the track include Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame thoroughbreds such as Archworth, Ten to Ace and Queen’s Own, which was owned by E. P. Taylor.

Taylor was an Ontario-born businessman who furthered his family’s fortune through his trademark strategy of consolidation and merger of businesses in various industries. His approach in the world of racing was no different.

“Taylor was the driving force behind a concerted program of purchasing racetracks and closing them much to the consternation and outrage of fans in these areas,” wrote Louis E. Cauz in his 1984 book, The Plate.

In doing so Taylor was able to create an economically viable racing circuit in Ontario. As part of the Ontario Jockey Club, Taylor purchased the track from its owners for an alleged $1 million and subsequently shut it down. The last race at Thorncliffe Park Raceway was held on June 23, 1952.

By 1953 the land was sold to residential and industrial developers, but those two tiny streets among the area’s 34 apartment buildings still stand as a reminder of a little known history.

“Thorncliffe definitely had a niche on the Toronto sporting landscape,” Cosgrove said.